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HALIFAX – Pictou County residents who want to improve their health and well-being will soon be able to enroll in an innovative, interactive online program two Dalhousie University professors are launching.

Associate Professors Gabriela Ilie, PhD, and her husband, Dr. Rob Rutledge, an oncologist, have created the Pictou County Personal Empowerment Program, also known as Pictou County PEP.

The program is part of their research investigating ways to cultivate communities dedicated to wellness in Canada and around the world.

“We aspire to become global leaders in creating healthy living communities, or wellness zones, where we are all empowered and committed to living healthy lives,” says Ilie.

“We will learn together how we activate our own roles in our health and healthy living.”

The Aberdeen Health Foundation, based in New Glasgow, NS, is contributing $100,000 to the project, in keeping with its mandate to improve the health of Pictou County.

“Chronic disease management and prevention is a priority for the Aberdeen Health Foundation because research shows current programs are not meeting the needs of Pictou County residents with on-going health conditions,” says Dr. Pat Craig, chair of the foundation’s Population Health Committee. “We were pleased to find a program developed right here in Nova Scotia that includes many of the core health principles shown to create lasting change.”

The researchers are seeking matching funds and welcome the participation of other donors in this study, which builds on their previous trials testing similar programs for cancer survivors.

Ilie and Rutledge plan to enrol 150 people currently living with chronic conditions, including diabetes, obesity, heart/lung disease, anxiety and/or depression, high blood pressure, concussion, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or any unhealthy habits they wish to change.

The program is open to “any person who wants to improve their physical and mental well-being,” says Ilie.

Enrollment, which begins November 20, and the program launches in January. Anyone over 18 can refer themselves, and the program is free.

Once enrolled, participants will receive daily motivational videos and emails from Ilie and Rutledge guiding them through activities they can do at home. Every month, they can also meet with the PEP team, and participate in planned community events.

The activities include walking, adopting healthy eating habits, improving sleep patterns, developing better interpersonal relationship skills, practising relaxation techniques, exploring attitudinal healing, and nurturing self-compassion.

“For six months, our program prescribes, describes, and demonstrates “Let’s do it together” activities designed to empower ourselves with new healthy habits,” says Ilie. “We translate the science, with humour, humility, and a strong sense of compassion.”

The researchers will connect participants to mentors and buddies and provide people with free exercise bands to help with strength-training workouts at home.

After six months, participants may experience improvements in their outlook, physical strength and activity levels, and mental health, says Ilie, drawing on evidence from the researchers’ previous cancer studies.

The Dalhousie researchers chose Pictou County for this project because it has among the highest rates of chronic disease in the province, Ilie says. They also chose Pictou County because the Aberdeen Foundation is a committed partner.

The project’s objective is not only to enhance the lives of individuals, but also to improve community health, adds Rutledge.

“By working together, we can transform lives and make a significant impact in Pictou County and beyond by pioneering personal empowerment work here in Canada and internationally,” he says.

For further information about the project or to enroll, please visit

Ilie, who holds an endowed position as the Soillse Scientist in Cancer Quality of Life Research, and Rutledge, who treats prostate, pediatric, and breast cancers, are based at Dalhousie University in the Faculty of Medicine.

More than 600 cancer survivors have enrolled in their previous studies, called PC-PEP and CancerPEP. The researchers hope to expand those projects across Canada and beyond. They have sites in 10 Canadian provinces and an international trial site in New Zealand.

Media Contact

For interviews about the project:

Gabriela Ilie, PhD (she/her)
Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine Endowed Soillse Scientist in Prostate Cancer Quality of Life Research
Associate Professor

Faculty of Medicine | Department of Community Health and Epidemiology | Department of Urology | Department of Radiation Oncology | Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Centre for Clinical Research, Room 401
Mobile: (902) 989-4114 |

Study enrollment:

Cody MacDonald

Project Research Coordinator

902 237-6277 or 902-473-7727