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Focus on Fitness 2012: Fitness

Why is it so hard to get started on the paths to fitness and wellness?

September 7, 2012 
By Sherry Dean

Why is it so hard to get started on the paths to fitness and wellness? It’s not like we don’t know we should do something, and most of us have some clue as to where to start. Yet, here we sit waiting for Monday (my husband’s favourite day to start his fitness regime). The kids, the chores, an injury or some other obstacle gets in the way. Somehow Monday never seems to arrive.

Misery loves company right? You know you will feel better when you work out and eat better; not to mention all the other benefits – and there are many. So why not challenge your co-workers, crews and friends on a little wager? I tend to think most of us are quite competitive and there is nothing like bragging rights to motivate a fire department.

There are all kinds of fitness challenges you can try. What does your department need to improve on? Is it weight loss, fitness, lowering cholesterol or blood pressure? All are measurable challenges. You just need to put the challenge forward and give a little incentive. The incentive doesn’t need to be a big one. Everyone can throw $5 in a pool or perhaps you have some PPE or gear you could put up as prizes.

It’s barely 90 days to the holiday season (for me, that means loads of great food) and 90 days is a reasonable amount of time to produce great results for any challenge. It also sets you up for a great New Year’s resolution. So, let’s work with a three-month time frame: 30-, 60- and 90-day evaluations are great and could provide an interim reward marker. You could always add another three-month challenge when the first one is done!


Weight-loss challenge
We all come in different shapes and sizes so working on a percentage weight loss makes the competition fair for all participants. One firefighter may have 20 pounds to lose and another just 10 pounds, but measuring a percentage loss helps evaluate firefighters on their personal achievements.

  • Use one scale for all competitors and weigh-ins.
  • Record a starting weight.
  • Record ending weight and subtract this from the starting weight.
  • Divide the result by the starting weight and multiply by 100. For example: 230 – 210 = 20 ÷ 230 = .086 x 100 = 8.6%

Make an informed decision on the diet you follow. Fads are never good, and don’t starve yourself. Bringing your weight down gradually has a better effect on longevity and your health. Usually, you will drop weight more quickly at the start and slow down after the first couple of weeks. This is normal and healthy. Don’t stop eating just to win. The challenge should be about health and wellness. If you work hard enough to lose weight, you definitely want to keep it off.

Fitness challenge
Perhaps developing strength is your goal. By using markers such as push ups or pull ups you can measure individual improvement. The honour system definitely plays a bigger factor here. Participants must try equally as hard at the start of the challenge as they do at the end. To encourage people to give it their all, a reward could be given for the firefighter who sets the highest marker. You’re really only cheating yourself if you dog it to set your standard.

Start with a timed test with clear parameters. If you are using push ups, tape a small ball to the mat and ensure participants touch their chest to the ball each time to count a push up. For pull ups, use your chin as a body marker. For a rep to count, chins must clear the bar. For those crazy people, add a weight to either push ups or pull ups.

Cholesterol or blood-pressure challenge
Most fire departments have access to blood-pressure cuffs, but you may have to ask your local EHS or pharmacy to assist with measuring cholesterol. It’s usually quite easy to get help with measuring beginning and ending levels. There are many good approaches to a healthy diet focusing on either of these targets. The Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society are excellent resources, but there are many to choose from. Chances are you will notice some weight loss by improving cholesterol and blood pressure. As with weight loss, remember to keep diet options reasonable.

There are many other options for you to choose from as far as challenges go. You are limited only by your imagination.

Send me a note and keep me up to date on your progress. Work hard and focus on improving your health while you goad – I mean, encourage – your friends! 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 body building, team sports and personal training. Contact her at

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