Canadian Firefighter Magazine

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Tools of the Trade: Command of the chain

June 29, 2020
By Sean Kingswell

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Eating a healthy diet that consists of the right number of calories prevents obesity, which is one of the lifestyle conditions that has been found to have a comorbidity with COVID-19. Photo: © alicja neumiler/Adobe Stock

With recent developments in our communities, our country and the world, there has never been a more prolific time to reflect on health and wellness. Buy-in is a necessary step for change and nothing is a more powerful catalyst than emotion, which has certainly been elevated lately. In seeing the impact of this terrible virus the power and value of health cannot be overstated. The reality is that many lifestyle related conditions have been brought to the forefront due to their comorbidity. Elements of lifestyle are all interwoven and ultimately create a chain. Like all chains, each link relies on the others for strength and support. We are all familiar with the term “chain of command” but please consider taking “command of the chain.”

My personal outlook and coaching style for lifestyle is simply balance not extremes. Our lifestyle is “how we choose to live our lives” and something that we can manage. Lifestyle can be managed clinically, but on a much simpler practical level day to day. Like any good form of management, this needs to deal with reality, like it or not, and have the ability to adjust based on facts and consequences. If a business ignores they are losing money, it doesn’t make it any less true, and if nothing is done about it, the outcome is obvious. One indisputable truth is that the elements of lifestyle are all connected and when one is out of sorts it has an impact on the others. All the links in our health chain have a negative or positive impact on ALL the others. In addition, if the links are mistreated over time the chain forms rust and manifests as our ailments and conditions.

Fundamental parts of the health chain include exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management, disease prevention, body composition and so on. Let’s say, for instance, our sleep is poor. Inadequate sleep inherently affects stress and when our stress rises we often eat poorly. When we choose ineffective fuel, it is common to lose drive for exercise, which over time would change body composition. You can see how they can all be connected. We could start with any of the links and work our way through in any order. Impacting the other elements of the chain in isolation is one thing, but when the whole chain rusts or weakens, that is when the health consequences are seen. Rust comes in many forms, including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancers and more. All things that affect a firefighter’s health, a civilian’s health and all of our immunity.

Obesity can be a contributor to the majority of conditions that exist. This is for numerous reasons, including that much our fat may be visceral. Visceral fat is amongst our organs and in many ways is more insidious then the subcutaneous fat we eyeball in the mirror. Obesity increases our chances of hypertension, bad cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, cancers, pain and poor mental health. At its core, obesity prevention is a matter of calories in and calories out. Though discipline is required, there are many effective strategies that can be employed to manage this, including all elements of the chain. Admitting and validating the impact of obesity on health is step one.

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Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the pressure on the artery walls. The chain has a direct impact on hypertension which can lead to the conditions mentioned above for obesity. Smoking is a contributor to hypertension and can cause as much rust to the chain as anything else. Exercise, however, manages hypertension, proper nutrition manages it, sleep manages it, coping with stress manages it, good body composition manages it. The chain again works together to keep us sound.

Type 2 diabetes is based on our bodies ability to process insulin and this often surrounds the pancreas. Preventing diabetes is all about the chain. Being active, sleeping well, keeping a healthy weight, and eating nutritious foods all have a direct bearing on our prevention of this disorder. They also all play a role in a healthier lifestyle after such a diagnosis. When it comes to cancer, we have enough risk factors from the carcinogens preying on us each day at work. Please don’t allow lifestyle to add to that risk.

Whether your motivator is longevity or retirement, immunity or performance, look at the links on the chain and consider how strong each of yours are. It is easy to get our back up about lifestyle or accuse someone who speaks of the consequences of lifestyle as preaching. Preaching is advice based on morality. The connection between the elements of the chain and the consequences of ignoring them are simply a matter of fact and well documented science. We don’t want too much rust on a tool that is on the trucks. So, keep it off the links that make up your personal health and your future.