Wellness is a matter of smart changes

By JT McVeigh, The Enterprise-Bulletin

The term “wellness” gets bandied about a lot when talking about personal health and sometimes can get a bit complicated.


For Dr. Greg Wells, it boils down to four simple rules; sleep, nutrition, movement and clarity.

For nearly a year, Wells and the team with the Collingwood 150 Wellness Challenge have been encouraging town residents, telling them they could be the healthiest people in Canada, maybe the world, but it is going to take a little conversation.

Wells is an assistant professor in kinesiology at the University of Toronto and an associate scientist of physiology and experimental medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and a broadcaster. He is well aware of the area’s natural attributes; he just wants to make sure residents know about them as well.

He was talking recently with a group at the Collingwood YMCA, explaining the project and giving some simple guidelines on how to achieve optimum health.

“When we all started this project, there were a couple of things that came to us that we thought were really critical. The No. 1 thing is looking at this as an athlete – it is all about recovery and regeneration,” Wells told the crowd. “So, the thing for me that is everything has to be sleeping, recovery and regenerating. And I look at Collingwood as the perfect place for that to happen. You come here, you are close to the water, you can get into the forest to recover and to regenerate.”

Sleep, Wells told the audience, is the easiest, but it is also the most elusive and a lot of the problem is self-generated.

“Now we are sort of addicted to these devices,” he said while holding up a smart phone. “We are distracted. The point is that when we shine these things into our eyes, we disrupt our brain, because they can fool us at night, making us think that it is still daytime and, as a result, we stay up late. We are not aligned with dark cycles of the sun and, as a result, many people don’t sleep very well, which is really quite challenging,” Wells said.

One problem creates another, he said, as lack of sleep disrupts the production of hormones, which control appetite. A lousy appetite leads to poor nutrition, which leads to snacks and lots of empty calories.

“So, it is really important that we all ... address this issue, given that 58% of us are overweight and obese,” Wells said. “The second thing that happens when you sleep well is that you release something called growth hormones. Growth hormone helps us to recover and to regenerate. It heals every single tissue in your body. It is the fountain of youth.”

The second rule, he said, is nutrition – something he calls eating smarter because of the correlation of nutrition and the brain.

“If we eat well, our brain comes to life. In fact, what you eat can determine how you can focus, how you can concentrate, whether or not you can pay attention to things,” said Wells. “Believe it or not, it is now thought that maybe Alzheimer’s disease is Type 3 diabetes caused by poor nutrition and lack of exercise. This is a new theory about certain types of Type 3 diabetes.”

Movement, or the lack of it, is Point 3.

“You don’t really need very much movement. We know that 15 minutes a day, which is 1% of your day, of exercise with the intensity of walking is enough to decrease your chance of developing breast cancer or colon cancer by more than 20%,” Wells said. “So, 15 minutes walking decreases your chances of cancer by up to 40%, and this works for all cancers except for pancreatic cancer. Most of the other cancers, it appears to have a very powerful impact on.”

The benefits don’t apply just to the body, but the mind as well, he said. A walk, particularly in the woods, helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression, especially if it becomes part of a regular routine.

“The other thing that I wanted to bring to you was thinking clearly. We live in an age of almost constant distraction,” said Wells. “With cellphones, that we have almost the entire sum of human knowledge in our pockets is fantastic. We have this incredible tool. We just have to learn how to use it properly.”

The goal of the Collingwood 150 project is to collect and share 150 activities that fit within these four parameters.

Kicked off last fall, a website was created for the activities to be posted and shared and they are always looking for more. The plan for the challenge is to create and identify 150-plus health and well-being projects in town by Canadian’s 150th birthday this July. The challenge, led by Wells, is based on scientific principles that have identified food, nature, recreation and movement – all things in abundance in Collingwood and area – as key components in healthy, active lifestyles.

For more information about the project, visit 

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