This month, as we rapidly roll into the holiday season I thought it would be a good idea to start thinking about our wellness. As the weather got colder and most of us became less active out doors the pounds slowly began to sneak on and we slowly become more sedentary.
As I have been fond of saying year after year, now that it is officially spring, SUMMER IS COMING. So instead of going into a tirade on fitness and nutrition, which I have already done numerous times (see blog) I thought I could give some simple wellness tips to help you stay ahead of the curve this year. (This advice is even MORE applicable in the fall months)
Please remember that wellness and fitness is a marathon not a sprint, so be consistent. The more frequently you exercise the more it becomes a part of you. Besides, in this line of work if you do not keep yourself fit the statistics say that it will break you. Sleep, nutrition, diet, exercise, and stress are all part of the equation and must be addressed.
Human nature is against us here, most of us live in the It won't happen to me world, aka: denial. We all feel that as First Responders we are invincible, but deep down inside you know this is far from the case. In my EMS career I saw first hand the lack of effort and total denial that my co-workers exhibited toward wellness and fitness, so I sincerely hope that employing some simple strategies into your day will help you to see how easy it is to be healthy and well.
1) Stop exercising backwards
Almost all of you are guilty of going to the gym and spending most of your time doing cardio, then doing some weight training. Believe it or not this is totally backwards. As most of you in EMS know, your body stores glycogen (stored cellular energy) in the muscle and liver. This glycogen is utilized for muscular activity as a source of energy. When you do sustained cardiovascular exercise your body does not utilize glycogen, it prefers aerobic metabolism. So, by applying some simple exercise science we know that by lifting weights first and doing your cardio second you will burn fat faster and more efficiently.
Here is what happens: when performing resistance exercise, the kind that this author approves of, you deplete your body of all its stored cellular energy. Now, when you do your cardiovascular training your body has no choice other that to mobilize that last form of stored energy in your body, FAT. So, by simply changing the order of your workout you can actually work out smarter, not harder.
2) Stand on one leg
Going with our simple theme, if you do all of your strength exercises on one leg the effectiveness of your muscle activation and subsequent calorie burn will increase exponentially. Couple that with the added stability, balance, core activation and added overall effectiveness of the exercises and you will get much more benefit from your exercise. A few examples are:
Chest: Cable or Band chest press / fly.
Back: Cable or band row, lat pull, bent over row. Dumbbell row, bar row.
Shoulders: Cable or band press, side raise, dumbbell scaption, press, chop.
Legs: Body weight squat, lunge, step up, band lunge, side walk.
One of the easiest things you can do to feel better, which will in turn decrease stress is to simply laugh. Laughter is the best medicine; research clearly shows that the more you laugh/smile the happier you will be and the less negative oxidizers like stress and catabolic hormones will effect you. Read a favorite comic strip each day, watch a comedy show or visit a few favorite comedy websites every day.
You would be amazed at the amount of research done on sleep. Simply put, the more sleep you get the better you heal, the higher your metabolism and the more alert you are. Napping is a huge part of this equation as well, but as I have observed this is generally not a problem in EMS and Fire services. People who nap daily are much more effective and more alert than their counterparts who do not nap. Even a few minutes can re-charge your batteries for the rest of the day. If your department alternates monthly day-night shifts try and stay on your work schedule even when off duty.
5) You are what you eat
Look, we all know this, eat well, eat less, make good choices. But have you actually kept a diet journal? Do you realize that you probably binge eat/over eat during your shift?! Chances are that you do, why? It's the nature of the beast, eat when you can and eat a fast and a lot when you do. Please stop, you are killing your metabolism and yourself for that matter.
The simplest thing to do is bring your food with you. If your meals are pre-planned you will eat proper portions and eat more frequently, which will rev up your metabolism. Avoid sugar at all costs. We in EMS know the end result of what sugar does to your body. Seriously, the first step is to keep a food journal. Write down everything that enters your mouth, and you will be amazed at how an objective look at your eating habits will help to guide you toward better eating.