My healthy life: Charmaine Brett

International aid worker Charmaine Brett knows how to de-stress under extreme conditions

My healthy life: Charmaine Brett

Source: Best Health Magazine, May 2009; photo by Christian Lalonde

Charmaine Brett suspected that physical activity was a great stressbuster. But it wasn’t until this Caledon, Ont.-raised human resource specialist worked 12 months in southern Sudan for the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders that she realized the strength of this connection. The 31-year-old helped coordinate 600 staff for four aid projects. While not her first overseas posting, the responsibility for others, long hours and a dangerous environment meant lots of pressure. Brett says running kept her stress levels down. ‘A 0.8 kilometre ‘safe zone’ outside our compound was usually safe to run,’ she says. ‘I ran a lot of circles!’

Take a break

‘Our days were long, so at lunchtime I’d plug in my MP3 player and follow yoga instructions under a tree. At times, others would join me and we’d get the directions through a set of speakers.’

Eat local

‘I’m vegetarian, so I was worried about my options. But we had great local cooks, and ate lots of chapatis, rice and canned beans. Those foods have enough protein and fibre to keep me fuelled.’

Create a "family" meal

‘On Sundays, we all pitched in and cooked brunch for 10 to 20 people’a great way to decompress.’

Set a goal

‘Running in circles could have been boring, but I set training goals so I’d be ready to run a marathon in Nairobi. That marathon wasn’t my best time, but I did it!’

Share with those who understand

‘You can email, text-message and phone friends and family while you’re away, but it’s hard to explain this kind of intense work to anyone who hasn’t been through it. You have to know who to share with; there are things only a colleague understands.’


‘You can’t work flat out forever. After about three months on the job, I took five days off and just sat on a beach. I went back refreshed and ready to go.’

This article was originally titled "My Healthy Life," in the May 2009 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!