So the New Year is here. 2016 is here to stay for a while, and 2015 can be written off. We can remember and reminisce about all the good things that came from the year, and we can remember all of the lessons learned from the negatives. Today is a new day and we cannot change the past, but there is a full year ahead where you can make a difference, make changes, and go somewhere.
There are a couple questions that I field throughout the year by email, messages, and in person at events. How do I do what I did? How can I make the changes, transform into a healthier lifestyle, and change my life?
I know I have a few brothers that I personally know and a few other friends that are struggling with this battle so I’ll start the year out with a difficult topic. It applies to many in our calling and the number who needs the help isn’t getting smaller. The topic is firefighter health and fitness, but really it can apply to anyone reading my blog because the concepts apply. With that said, please don’t take what is being said incorrectly or that I value anyone any differently. Instead take it as a concern for you, your family, your fire family, and those that you may be serving.
Why am I so devout to firefighter fitness you ask? I am passionate about the cause because I was there, maybe not to the same extent as some because we all face different issues. I was the unfit firefighter sucking down PSI of air, I was the worn out, overweight, borderline in many areas that was headed down the road where many of our brother firefighters have. I was 235 and a 42” waist, I looked like “Winnie the Pooh” in my fire gear and I finally had to make the decision to change my life.
Looking around I am deeply concerned and worried about a growing number of our own that are in the same place that I once was. I don’t have to look far to wonder whats happening because in traveling to training, workshops, expos, conventions, and events around the United States I can see it.
Sadly when I first started writing this article I found myself getting an #LODD notification of a brother in Michigan who died during a training exercise. http://apps.usfa.fema.gov/firefighter-fatalities/fatalityData/detail?fatalityId=4476 While it will be some time before the full report will be out, they have listed the cause as stress/overexertion. This cause and his nature of death sadly are happening all too often in the fire service and are a leading cause that is not being addressed. I have given up on there being a “good, safe, or appropriate” time to discuss that which is killing us, because that time is now. In fact, the more that I sit here with my thoughts about firefighter fitness the more frustrated and concerned I am for our brotherhood. Here’s another article that hits close to home http://www.firefighternation.com/article/news-2/elderly-woman-killed-ohio-house-fire with a firefighter in the county to the east being transported with cardiac conditions. As I continued to work on this piece I heard of other close calls, and then today I heard of an Illinois FF/Medic that suffered cardiac arrest after his shift. Unfortunately it is not a matter of IF another of our own will be lost to stress/overexertion, but a matter of WHEN. Brothers and sisters, the statistics are out there and they speak volumes. There is NO better time than today to start making the changes in your life, because you matter!
Disclaimer here… Before beginning any new health regimen, make sure to seek professional medical advice and make sure you are fit for exercise. Take the information in the “take note” section below with you and perhaps your doctor may have further advice. If you are going for a physical or yearly bloodwork, make sure to record these numbers with the where you started section.
Take note, take steps to making a plan
First of all, gather a few things for memory sake. Snap some pictures of you today or some someone do it for you in decent light, if there’s one thing that I wish I had a few more of, it would be photos at the beginning. Take these, as you see changes take more photos, maybe its monthly. I am goal oriented and when I had a setback or needed to know why I was working hard I look back at where I was.
Hop on the scale, you need to know where you started. If you have a scale that figures your BMI and muscle percentages that’s even better, record that data too. How you weigh yourself is up to personal preference, but I prefer not to be weighing my shoes and don’t want a deceptive number. I chose to weigh daily in the morning first thing, stick to it.
They say you are what you eat, but sometimes when we are starting out we have selective memory and forget about that extra helping of potatoes or that late night slice of pizza when you get back from a run. Write it down. You don’t need to have an expensive logbook to do this, just a tablet and something to write with. Record what you are eating, everything, when, and maybe even the portion size. Record also your drinking habits and can or bottle sizes. This is not an area to cheat yourself in, if you want to make change you need to lay it all out there to be seen. Chances are you might shock yourself and you may have your own AHA moment.
As I said in the disclaimer above, take this information and talk to your family doctor and see what they feel is an appropriate level of exercise and two if they have ideas. Its not about seeking pills or surgeries, its about applying common sense to what you are putting into your body.
Have a plan
Here’s where it gets tricky and you have to start making commitments because you need to write them down. Maybe it’s to lose twenty-five pounds in the next year (maybe more in some cases). Maybe that goal is to lower your cholesterol or your blood pressure, maybe it is a combination of things that you would like to see. Make these goals realistic for you, if you are hitting the scales at 350 pounds and you are 5’2”, a realistic goal would not be 160 in a matter of months. Likewise, setting the goal small will equally be unrealistic. This plan should be something that I recommend working with a physician on, perhaps they can even refer you to a nutritionist for further consultation.
Honestly just by writing down what you have eaten in the last two weeks you will see the answers that you need to make the plan happen. Looking at my own firehouse I see portion sizes, pop (soda), energy drinks, sugary snacks, loads of salt and carbs, and did I mention portion sizes.
This is not a diet; this is changing your life
I have to add this tidbit in here because I really think it’s important. I had friends, doctors, and other competitors ask me, what diet did you use to get to this point? The thing is, yes I did try some of those diets out there, tried watching points, and tried some pills, but those are just short term. What worked and what I reaped the most benefit from was not a diet, but changing my life. That was two-part, it was putting the time in working on my body and also putting time into planning what foods I put into my body.
Do something with the plan
Again, that time to do something is now, not tomorrow. One of the things that I regret the most is that I didn’t get in shape sooner, or honestly that I ever let myself get to that point. If part of your plan is to reduce or completely eliminate certain types of food, get rid of them and don’t buy them again.
Work with your family to cut those foods out of your menu and don’t let them back in. Having the support of my family was a huge part of how I got to where I am. Honestly may wife at times was probably pretty bored with some of my foods around the house and what I would not cook for dinner. There is still a long standing order that, “yes you can buy Girl Scout cookies, but you must hide them from me. The same applied to chocolates and other sweets that I found hard to give up at first.
How are you getting there to your goal?
If you thought committing to making a change in your life and making a plan was a difficult task, you’ve only seen a part of the battle. The other part of the battle is attaining goals. Sometimes some of the simplest things can be done to start making more of a difference.
- Get up. Quit riding the recliner so much at the firehouse or being so static around your own home.
- Purchase a fitness tracker and set a goal of so many thousand steps per day. Mine is a minimum of 10,000 per day, which in the fire service shouldn’t take too long to hit. Watch it throughout the day, have you been sitting for awhile, then go do something like walk the steps. If you’re getting ready for bed and you haven’t hit your mark, then keep going. My FitBit helped boost me be even more effective at staying active.
- Don’t starve yourself. You need to eat because your body needs fuel. Not eating is the quickest way to sabotage your plan.
- Sign up for the gym. Even better if they will do a free physical assessment with a personal trainer. I switched gyms a little over two months ago, and yet still I took the trainer up on the assessment offer and learned new things.
- Make a date with yourself, no one likes being stood up. Put down on the calendar when you are going to work out. Plan out at the most two weeks and set dates to go.
- Take the stairs. Why are we so afraid of steps, but will wait what sometimes can be a minute or more to take the elevator that is there? Take the steps, not only will you get where you are going faster, but you will help get that heart pumping.
- Pre-package your snacks. When I would sit down, the food sometimes just disappeared. Just because the food is there you don’t have to eat it all. See what the recommended portion size is and package those in re-sealable bags or containers to take with you.
- Water can be boring, I’ll admit it, and in my town the water tastes like a tin can. If you’re looking to change it up a little. Try fresh lemon juice in your water. Squeeze and leave the wedge of lemon in there throughout the day. Other options to infuse in your water that I enjoy are cucumbers or strawberries.
- Avoid the sports drinks. Seriously, if you’re just hitting the gym for a 25-minute jog, maybe a bike ride, and some weights, you aren’t doing yourself a favor. These popular drinks are full of more calories, sugar, and other nutrients than you are often going through. Buy an easily washable and refillable water bottle from the store that has a wide top and closes well.
- Surround yourself with good people. Know someone else at your firehouse that is starting the same mission as you or maybe already works out, hit them up and schedule some gym time. Surrounding yourself with negatives will do nothing for your progress but bring you down. I’ve dealt with this first hand. Be positive if you are out there, encourage each other, we are all here to make a difference.
Don’t give up
Lastly, this is a change that is not going to happen overnight, understand that. In some cases it took years of bad eating, too much drinking, and not enough activity to get you here, it will take some work to fix it! Do expect that this is going to be a challenge and that yes there are days when you are going to be sore and tired. Before long however you WILL see change if you are eating right and being active. At first that change might be that you see a few pounds falling off within weeks. That can be water weight, and that can also be attributed to “junk” leaving your body. Another change that I noticed in the first couple weeks when I started was that I felt more alert in the morning.
Need some motivation? Look at your kids, your spouse, your family, your fire family, and then finally look in the mirror. These are the people that you matter to, and these are who matter to you. Do it for them, do it for you, and do this so that your name is not added to the list of firefighter fatalities that is growing.