Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fitsmart: October 2014

By Brad Lawrence   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness

From its inception, fire fighting has been synonymous with a fair amount of occupational risks and health hazards.

From its inception, fire fighting has been synonymous with a fair amount of occupational risks and health hazards. As unfortunate as that is, I’ve always found this risk factor to be a unique aspect of the job. We all sign up knowing the risks associated with the job, and most of us truly love our careers nonetheless. Few professions carry this degree of inherent danger, coupled with the level of pride for which the fire service is famous. Today, the hazards have changed but the danger is still very real. The spontaneous nature of our careers place us in less-than-ideal situations. Most of the hazards we deal with are fairly obvious, short-term hazards. In this issue of Canadian Firefighter, we’re looking at a long-term threat in the form of cancer.

As with many things in life, there are factors related to cancer that we can control, and factors we cannot control. Our individual well-being is no different. We’re going to examine cancer prevention from a lifestyle perspective and explore the variables we can change in the hope of building a better, longer life.

First and foremost, cancer is a brutal disease that has likely touched each one of us, whether you’ve been personally affected or experienced cancer through a distant relative. Not all health problems are avoidable, and curing cancer – despite billions of dollars put toward research – still eludes our world’s greatest minds year in and year out. This disease, perhaps more than any other in this world, may best be treated through prevention.

While none of us has complete control, studies have shown many cancers are directly caused by our lifestyles. Choices such as poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and excessive drinking are all major contributors to this disease. In fact, researchers estimate almost 30 per cent of all cancer deaths are attributed to smoking. Findings also state that one-third of all cancers can be linked to poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity. While the numbers may not blow you away, it’s important to recognize there are changes you can make to help prevent this terrible disease.


Smoking: To me, being a non-smoker seems like the most important preventative cause of cancer in our world today. Approximately one-fifth of all cancer cases can be linked to smoking. The single best thing you can do for yourself in the battle for prevention is to be a non-smoker.

Maintain a healthy bodyweight: This notion goes hand-in-hand with taking proper care of yourself. Keep an eye on how your body stores fat. The old “spare tire” adage is often the brunt of our jokes, but it is actually quite dangerous. Fat begins to store itself deep beneath your skin and sits against vital organs. This is called visceral fat, and the more you carry the more likely you are to develop insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes). Visceral fat is also linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and several other metabolic issues. The good news is visceral fat is easily eliminated through diet and exercise. Feel healthy, look healthy and become healthy in the future with a proper weight-management plan.

Alcohol: More and more research is done on alcohol each year. That may come as a surprise to some, as alcohol is generally well understood in scientific circles. The reason is because of the common consumption of alcohol throughout the population. It’s probably safe to say most of us consume alcohol from time to time – which is perfectly fine. It’s alcohol abuse that is linked to cancer. Drinking heavily, and especially drinking heavily in the long-term, is what’s believed to cause alcohol-related cancers.

Sun exposure: Until I started researching for this subject, I didn’t realize skin cancer was the most prevalent type of cancer in Canada. Good news though – it’s also one of the easiest to prevent. Just be smart in the sun and use your common sense. Basically every recent study released warns against indoor tanning, with major researchers claiming it can increase melanoma risk up to 75 per cent.

Nutrition: Nutrition seems to be our most powerful tool for longevity in this world. It seems so many illnesses and diseases are prevented, caused, or alleviated by what we choose to eat, and what we do not eat. The prevention plan is nothing out of the ordinary. Eat a healthy, balanced diet every day. Eat as much fresh food as possible. Continue to eat the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables, fibre, and, of course, drink plenty of water. Eat foods rich with antioxidants. Avoid processed foods and items high in simple sugars (junk food).

When you choose ingredients and prepare meals, keep these basic health tips in mind:

  • Avoid cooking oil in high heat. Superheating oils and fats can actually produce carcinogens while you cook.
  • Opt for healthier methods of cooking, or switch to an oil that handles the high heat better, such as coconut oil.
  • Choose your fats wisely. Avoid products containing saturated and trans fats.
  • Make sure you thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables. Washing won’t completely remove all pesticide residues, but it will reduce them.

Give your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs to sustain itself. Increase your personal cancer awareness and give your body every advantage it deserves. Eat well, train regularly and get plenty of rest when you need it. As always, take care of the gift that is your body, and set yourself up for success.

Brad Lawrence is a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department and a certified personal trainer who specializes in training and nutrition for emergency responders. Email Brad at

Print this page


Stories continue below