Fire Fighting in Canada

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Focus on Fitness 2012: Secrets to success

Being a firefighter is one of the most rewarding, fulfilling careers on the planet.

September 7, 2012 
By Ken Sylvan

Being a firefighter is one of the most rewarding, fulfilling careers on the planet.  When children are asked what firefighters do, they say, “They save lives…” That is true, but what about the you, the firefighter? Who is helping you save your life? Besides the toxins and dangerous situations that you face regularly, there are many life issues that compound these work issues: lack of sleep, physical stress, lack of recovery, inability to eat, injury, and mental stress.

Being physically fit isn’t the only indicator of a healthy firefighter. Adopting an ideal meal plan, getting enough sleep and detoxifying the body all help to maintain peak efficiency. Photo by Laura King


Despite all those health risks, you are not doomed to life of sickness and ill health; knowing and understanding the stresses that affect health and wellness is a first step in staying mentally and physically fit and healthy.

In order to stay fit and healthy on the job, firefighters should:

  1. Take the asparagus test;
  2. Establish and adopt an ideal meal plan to stay lean and strong;
  3. Get enough sleep; sleep is key to health/recovery;
  4. Adopt five key protocols to help maintain health and fitness;
  5. Learn to detoxify the body.

1. The asparagus test
Asparagus supplies folate for the body, but the body doesn’t actually use the folate, rather it converts the folate to L-5 MTHF, or methyltetrahydrofolate, which helps detoxify the body, increase neurotransmitters (this leads to better mood) and is involved in making new cells with exact DNA matches; all this helps reduce cellular mutations such as cancer. The problem is that 35 per cent or more of us have a gene defect that does not convert folic acid to L-5 MTHF, and this produces a pungent smell in the urine after  eating asparagus. Being unable to convert folic acide to L-5 MTHF results in a possible increase in certain cancers, heart disease, depression and anxiety. Taking a natural identical folate is an alternative; this is  available in products such as Methylator 3.0 by Charles Poliquin or methylator by AOR. Your doctor can do a simple lab test to check for the gene defect, or you can simply eat some asparagus; if there’s no odd smell in your urine then you are fine; odour equals the MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate redectase) gene defect.

2. The ideal meal plan
What is the ideal meal plan for you?  To find the answer, you should find a fitness expert who is Biosignature certified to assess you and let you know what is best for your body.  One meal plan doesn’t work for everyone. That being said, if you stick to some general guidelines, you should progress well. Always ask yourself where your  quality protein comes from at meal time. Choose sources such as bison over grain or corn-fed cow. A healthy animal will yield healthy product for the consumer. Cold water fish such as trout or salmon are sustaining foods. Fish such as cod or sole are low in  in healthy fats, so you need to eat more to feel energized for a couple hours.

When choosing  carbohydrates, look at low glycemic foods such as brown rice, quinoa and root vegetables (squash, sweet potato, yams and cassava). Go raw to stay lean. Chard, collards, dandelion (yes, the stuff in your yard), broccoli, bok choy, cucumbers, zucchini, cilantro, parsley, radishes and peppers – these foods release insulin more slowly than refined or grain-based carbohydrates. Grain-based carbohydrates release a lot of insulin at once, which helps store more fat than necessary.

3. Get enough sleep
Sleep is the key to recovery and good health. Disrupted sleep can alter glucose metabolism, androgen production, thyroid function and blood pressure. Poor sleep quality can affect memory, your immune system and in essence, your ability to heal the body from daily stressors. These stressors can be organ stress from food, preservatives and chemicals, in addition to work and mental stress. Any kind of stress will increase belly fat, something no one wants or needs.

Some simple questions to ask yourself when you are off shift: Do you need an alarm clock to get up? Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you get up more than once a night, or wake up feeling mentally or physically tired? If you answer yes to more than one of these questions you may have some sleep issues.

How can you improve your sleep? Get rid of all electronic devices in your room. They stimulate your central nervous system and keep you in flight or fight mode. Twenty  minutes before bed, plan for the next day and write out any questions swirling around in your mind. Studies show that the brain does not like to shut down when holding onto stressful thoughts. Yoga or meditation before bed is ideal to lower blood pressure and quiet your mind. The lower your cortisol – a hormone released by stress – the higher your melatonin will be and the better you will sleep.

4. Adopt five health protocols
A Magnesium is very important due to its ability promote deeper and uninterrupted sleep.  Make sure your supplement includes magnesium fumarate, orotate, taurate and glycinate. Magnesium glycinate supports the nervous system and when coupled with inositol (which supports proper electrical energy and nutrient transfer across cellular membranes) is an amazing mental stress fighter as well.

B Sea vegetable formulas, specifically those containing different sea algae, moss, spirulina, chlorophyll, bittermelon, fenugreek and cinnamon, are amazing antioxidants that help keep the body’s pH more alkaline. A higher alkaline level is better for weight loss and toxin loss, helps to lower inflammation, promotes better insulin regulation and leads to less risk of cancer development.

C Fish oil has many positive effects. It is a major cortisol smasher. It turns on the lipolytic gene for fat burning and turns off the lipogenic gene, which is responsible for fat storage. It also reduces pain management by lowering inflammation,  lowers blood pressure, lowers the risk of heart disease and increases serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter). Stress, depression and anxiety can all be reduced by this product.

D A strong multivitamin/mineral that supports liver detoxification and health. These days getting all of our nutrients from our food just isn’t possible. With depleted soils and toxins in many of our foods, we aren’t getting all of our nutrients.  Having nutrients in the correct ratios so we can detoxify and perform important body functions is key. Promoting cellular detoxification is vital in avoiding cellular mutation, which is linked with many cancers that plague firefighters.

E Lastly, a balanced probiotic formula helps to promote balance. Probiotics are tiny microflora that live in your gastrointestinal tract that help absorb nutrients and create many of the neurotransmitters that affect our mood and thoughts. The message: if your gut lining is dirty, you will have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body. This can lead to more extreme cases of anxiety and other stress-related disorders. Stressful situations release more cortisol and damage your gut lining, which will result in an increase in belly fat. Probiotics lower inflammation in the gut lining  and keep it healthier. This means a happier, leaner you.

5. Detoxify your body
As I mentioned, the B vitamins from animal protein and strong multivitamins help to detoxify the body. But it is also good to give your digestion a break.  Once a week, choose a day to reduce animal protein; use rice protein and almond or rice milk four to five times that day (it is anti inflammatory for the gut lining) to keep you from losing muscle that day. Also, add glutamine, carnitine and leucine. These will help with energy and vitality. If you have a juicer, juice five or six eight-ounce glasses that day. Stick to veggies such cilantro and parsley, which pull out heavy metals from tinned food, and green, leafy vegetables such as bok choy, chard, collards and dandelion leaves. Vegetables such as cucumber, zucchini, broccoli and celery add nice flavour. Add different fibres to help expel harmful estrogens from your system; modified citrus pectin has been shown to work well with liver, estrogen and heavy-metal detoxification. Lastly, drink at least 38 millilitres for every kilogram of body weight. Drinking water not only keeps you leaner from a metabolic point of view, but also promotes healthy bowel movements, which are vital for detoxification and overall health.

These five health tips are a great start to ensuring a long firefighting career and a healthy, enjoyable retirement.


Ken Sylvan is co-owner of NeuroFit Life Systems Inc. He has 15 years of experience in the fitness industry, having managed fitness clubs, and trained athletes, competitors and firefighters. Ken has a B.Sc. in neuroscience from the University of Toronto and is SWISS certified, Poliquin Biosignature certified and AFPA certified.

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