advances we can do a better job of caring for those with emergency medical needs. Most of us also continue with a process of lifelong education, always seeking
to learn more that will help us care for our patients. But what of our most
basic role, physically moving patients to acute care? Are we prepared for the
hard lifting work requirements of our profession? Do we spend the same energy
preparing for the physical demands of our job as the intellectual demands?
I don’t really think so. Some of us took a lifting test to
get in EMT school, and that was the last weight we lifted without getting paid. Much has been done lately to reduce physical
work injuries with technology, such as the new powered stretchers,
better stair chairs,
and lift assist systems. But I see very
little if no real emphasis placed on physical training. We do a very physical
job, and like it or not we simply must be able to move people. The people we
move keep getting larger; and frankly I see many Paramedics getting bigger too.
Pretty soon we will have the unable caring for the unmanageable. The solution
is two-fold, and no mystery – Diet & Exercise.
Oh No (Groan), another impossible lifestyle change! Not
really. Not if you do not set unrealistic goals or have unrealistic
expectations. You did not get in this condition overnight, and you won’t get
out of it overnight either. Take Baby Steps, you would be astonished at how
little you need to do to produce positive changes in your health.
First are food issues. Sugar is a Drug, and a very powerful
one. It changes your mood and induces relaxation. In high enough doses,
it causes lethargy. Start thinking about refined carbohydrates as a mind-altering drug.
Take a good look at folks in the supermarket checkout line, and their shopping
baskets. You will soon notice that the biggest patrons have the most junk in
their cart (no pun intended). They cannot stop because they are addicts. Start thinking the same way about
processed and refined foods as you would a potential drug problem. You may become motivated
to change your shopping behavior. What changes can you make that will produce
positive health benefits?
Rule 1. Only eat things that you can tell exactly what’s in it just
by looking at it. An apple kind of looks likes an apple. A piece of chicken
looks a lot like a chicken. A box mix of cheesy macaroni has heaven knows what
in it. From chemicals and processed carbohydrates to what they call a
“pasteurized, processed, cheese-food product”. Not to be confused with food. You can eat real food whenever you are hungry. Stop trying to eat less, try to eat better.
Rule 2. When shopping at the grocery store, buy almost
everything from around the outside wall of the store. Stay the heck out of the
aisles, that’s where they keep the poison. The fresh foods require refrigeration,
and the outside wall of most supermarkets is where the electric power is. In
almost every store you will first find produce, then meat, dairy, etc., all
around the outside wall. Make a fast dash in the aisles for coffee & hot
sauce. Otherwise stay the hell out. You will soon learn that all the “good
stuff’ in Rule 1 is around the outside of the supermarket. Eat out of your
refrigerator, not your pantry.
The next big problem is exercise. Many feel like they need
the support and motivation of a gym environment. That’s great if it works for
you. But like many who buy unused gym memberships, I’ve joined and dropped out
of many great programs. What worked for me is following two more simple rules.
Rule 3. Find a simple exercise you can do anywhere without
special equipment. For me it was the lowly push-up. At first I could only do
one a day, then after a few weeks I could do 3. Now I do sets of 10 push-ups at
least 4 or 5 times a day. That is all I really do, and I’m "off" on the weekend. Anything will work, examples are sit-ups,
jumping jacks, or about anything else that makes your body do a little more work than
pushing a remote control. If you keep it up, you will find your weight getting
easier to manage and your strength improving.
Rule 4. Find something you like doing outside. In the summer I like rowing or sailing my canoe, in the winter I
like walking near the river. The idea is to find something fun, that you can do
every week. The trick is to make it enjoyable. It really does not matter what
you pick; bike riding, walking, golfing, skiing, anything that gets you up on
your feet moving blood around will work.
With gentle changes in how you eat and enjoy
your time off, you can change how well (and for how long) you
can do your job.
Professional athletes work out every day, and manage their diet scientifically
to enhance their physical performance. We are athletes too; doing a job that
keeps getting more and not less physically demanding. I’m no great example. I
still smoke, eat like a feeder pig, and only run when being chased with a weapon. But
I’ve made enormous progress by using just these simple rules. They have helped
me manage my weight, and have greatly enhanced my health and strength. As a result, these minor lifestyle changes have been sustainable long term. Maybe I’m not the true EMS athlete I wish I was, but at least I’m more confident that I won’t endanger somebody else.