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Fit for Duty: April 2013

Statistics Canada shows that 59 per cent of Canadian adults and 29 per cent of our children are overweight or obese.

March 22, 2013 
By Sherry Dean

Statistics Canada shows that 59 per cent of Canadian adults and 29 per cent of our children are overweight or obese. Our children are the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than we do. Obesity costs the Canadian economy between $4.6 billion and $7.1 billion a year and about 9.3 per cent of all deaths in Canada can be attributed to obesity.

Chances are if you are reading this column, you have at least some interest in fitness. The idea of being fit sounds great to most people, but far too many people stop there. The course of action for a healthier lifestyle is simple, but if it were easy we wouldn’t be more obese than ever.

Many people aren’t aware of the considerations involved in health and fitness. Although there are too many factors to list them all, there are some basics.

Genetics and metabolism
We are not all the same. Our genetics have a huge effect on our body composition and response to training. Studies have shown that altering the diet of those genetically predisposed to Type II diabetes has excellent results. There is no question that eating healthier and exercising improves your overall health.

Age slows metabolic rate, but if you think about how our activity levels change as we get older, it makes sense. You can increase your metabolism by improving muscle density, increasing cardiovascular endurance, eating certain foods (omega 3 are excellent), eating less quantity more often, getting good sleep and even turning down your thermostat.

Time and commitment
Getting out of shape probably didn’t probably didn’t happen overnight and you won’t become more healthy and fit in the blink of an eye either; it takes time for your body to respond. Fitness and healthy eating are part of a lifestyle; you don’t have to be obsessive and your regimen shouldn’t interfere with enjoying life. If you indulge in moderation there shouldn’t be a problem.

You do not have to spend two hours at the gym. In fact, you don’t have to spend any time in the gym; we have explored other options in previous columns. Just do something, do it regularly and use some effort. By constantly moving, you are also improving endurance. Besides, the quicker you move the more time you have to do things that don’t take so much effort.

Calories in / calories out
Yes, there are factors that affect caloric intake, but, really, it’s simple. If you are gaining the bad kind of weight or if you aren’t losing weight, you are eating too much or not doing enough work: it’s really that simple. If you calculate how many calories you consume and how many calories you burn during exercise (forget about the calories burned while sleeping) and then look at your weight loss – if you aren’t losing as much weight as you’d like, then eat less and work out more. Simple.

The other factor you should consider with weight loss is muscle mass. If you have lost fat but you have built up muscle, you may not lose weight; some people even gain weight when they convert fat to muscle. You need to look at your body composition (measurements) and you need to be honest with yourself. Most of us have a pretty good grasp of how our bodies look and how our clothes fit. If you aren’t good at analyzing your body, take some photos in your under gear every two weeks and compare them. If you don’t see results, reassess your fitness plan.

Work ethic
I may sound like I’m venting and perhaps I am a little, but seriously, some people’s perception of hard work is . . . well (I’ll be nice), wimpy. I don’t expect you to feel sick every time you work out. I do expect it occasionally, but that fully depends on what you want to get out of your effort.

Of course it’s difficult. Your department is not asking you to stress yourself with a workout, but you should be responsible and accountable for applying effort, discipline and commitment in being able to perform your duty.

You should be appreciated for your commitment to a difficult duty, no matter what your role is in your fire department. I’m not trying to pick on anyone but this isn’t Disney. Whether you are a volunteer or a career firefighter, you have chosen your involvement and you should take seriously your obligation to be able to do your duty.

Sometimes, the mental fortitude it takes to make change is much more difficult than the physical effort. We are often held back by apprehension, past failures, peer pressure and other obligations, and it can be overwhelming. Try to find a reason to overcome these excuses – there has to be at least one. If you have done something physical, you know that great feeling you get when you have finished. Find inspiration to help you get started, use support systems to keep you on track and maintain focus to keep you going. There are definite benefits. You will feel better and you will be healthier. Good luck and good health.

Sherry Dean is a career firefighter/engineer with Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency Service and a volunteer captain with the Blockhouse & District Fire Department. She is an NFPA level 1 instructor with hazmat technician and special rescue certifications. Sherry has more than 20 years of experience in fitness and training including the Scott FireFit Challenge, competitive bodybuilding, team sports and personal training. Contact her at

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