The importance of self care

As follow-up to my last post, which you can read here, I thought I’d talk about some ideas to to help keep ourselves mentally well.  Again, this post isn’t just for First Responders…these are things anyone can (& should do).

We all lead busy lives…and it’s easy to put taking care of ourselves at the bottom of our to-do list.  But there’s only so long that your body will allow this kind of abuse before your physical and mental health start to take a toll

Self care is one of the most important things we need to focus on for both our physical and mental health, and most self care activities have a positive impact on both at the same time.  I’m just going to provide a list of simple things you can do to take care of yourself.  Some require very little time or effort.

  1. Unplug for 5 min, 30 min, 60 min…whatever time you’re able to.  Turn off your phone, TV, computer, everything electronic and just enjoy the break from social media for awhile.
  2. Further to the social media discussion…take out any negative people you “follow” or are “friends” with.  You don’t have to delete them if that’s too harsh, but you can “unfollow” or “mute” them.  There’s enough negativity in our lives without these negative people on social media.
  3. Pause….and take a minute to deep breath.  Yes, a full minute (or more).  It’s amazing how relaxing this is.  I recommend you do this anytime you get that feeling of anxiousness or something overwhelming you.
  4. Walk or run.  I’m not a runner…but people tell me it relaxes them!  For me there’s nothing more relaxing for me than walking my dog at the dog park.  Something about watching the pure joy she has running free there!  The fresh air does me good too!
  5. Laugh!  At anything…a funny comic book, tv show, youtube video, etc.  It’s amazing how good laughter makes you feel.
  6. Perform a random act of kindness.  It doesn’t have to be something huge.  Help someone carry groceries to their car, hold the door for someone, buy someone coffee, the possibilities are endless.
  7. Exercise.  This one is pretty obvious, but much harder to schedule time for.  But it can be anything.  I already mentioned running/walking.  Other ideas…yoga, fitness classes, weightlifting, etc.
  8. Hobbies.  Read a book, play an instrument, knit, paint, etc.  These are great to relax you.

What are some of your go to self care tips?  Please share some of your favourites.

 

 

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Calling all Pop Drinkers!

Soft drinks are the leading source of added sugar worldwide, and have been linked to obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. But, who doesn’t like soda pop? I don’t know of very many people who would say no to an ice-cold soda pop on a hot day (while at work, because I know you’d all rather drink something tastier on a hot day off!). There is no harm in the odd soda pop once in awhile. The harm comes when you drink many of them in a week, or worse, many of them in a day. I didn’t have to look very hard to find many, many sources discussing the harmful effects that soda pop and other sugar-sweetened beverages have on your body and your health. I’ve attempted to summarize these for you in this article.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 20.21.59

To start with, I like visuals and I found the following powerful ones online.  I think it is important that we all actually see how many calories and how much sugar is in some of the commonly consumed sugar-sweetened beverages.  Click on the photo to see a comparison of many sugar-sweetened drinks (Rockstar, Vitamin Water, Juices, etc).  And the table outlines calories and sugar in many common soda pops.

sugar and calories in pop

Now, to get into some of the effects on your body. I will start with diabetes as that is likely what most people associate sugary drinks with. People who consume 1-2 servings a day of sugar-sweetened beverages have a 26% greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes over people who consume less than 1 serving a month of sugar-sweetened beverages (Malik et al., 2010). Read that again…if you drink 1-2 servings of sugar-sweetened beverages a day you have a 26% greater chance of developing diabetes than someone who rarely drinks them. That is pretty significant!

Next I’ll touch on weight gain. The consumption of sugar-added beverages has a significant link between amount of consumption and becoming overweight or obese. People who drink more than one soda per week have a greater probability of becoming overweight than in those who drink less than 1 soda per week (70% compared with 47% of women aged >50 years old and 77% compared with 58% of men aged >50 years old) (Malik, Schulze, & Hu, 2006).

Having a fatty liver isn’t a very sexy subject, nor would many people understand why this even matters. I will attempt to explain it as easily as I can, but for more in depth information read the very well written paper that I reference. During regular soft drink consumption, fat accumulates in the liver by the primary effect of fructose which increases lipogenesis (formation of fat), and in the case of diet soft drinks, by the additional contribution of aspartame sweetener and caramel colourant which are rich in products that potentially increase insulin resistance (Nseir, Nassar, & Nimer, 2010). The metabolism of fructose is distinct from glucose. The ‘Coles Notes’ version of the paper explains that fructose consumption causes inflammation in the liver. It also promotes insulin resistance, issues with cholesterol, and increased blood pressure. These symptoms (high cholesterol, hypertension, and hyperglycaemia) are commonly known as metabolic syndrome and fructose contributes to them all. And fructose isn’t just found in soda pop. It is commonly named ‘high fructose corn syrup’ in many packaged foods.

Now a brief note on diet pop for those of you now scared of fructose in regular pop! Aspartame and caramel (colourant) are also used as sweeteners in diet pop. Aspartame can contribute to weight gain, obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Aspartame is not as harmless as many people think it is. Consider this the next time you choose the diet version of your pop thinking it is the healthier choice (Nseir, Nassar, & Nimer, 2010).

I hope you reconsider grabbing that pop today, or your second pop today after reading through this article. I still enjoy the occasional sugar-sweetened drink, but just like many other things we like to treat ourselves with, it is important to consume them in moderation.
References:

Malik, V. S., Popkin, B. M., Bray, G. A., Després, J.-P., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2010). Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care, 33(11), 2477 LP-2483. JOUR. Retrieved from http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/33/11/2477.abstract

Malik, V. S., Schulze, M. B., & Hu, F. B. (2006). Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr, 84(2), 274–288. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/long/84/2/274

Nseir, W., Nassar, F., & Nimer, A. (2010). Soft Drinks Consumption and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 16(21), 2579–2588.

Other articles of interest:

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/08/sports-drinks-are-abomination-even-when-theyre-organic

 

Meal Planning for Success

Have you ever tried to meal plan?  If you haven’t, you need to!  It makes your life so much easier, makes your grocery trips less frequent and likely cheaper, and is just waaaaaay less stress each night.

For a full time shift worker I suggest you plan out your meals for your entire rotation 2 days before you go back to work (make sure you plan for leftovers).  Even cook some in advance if it works for you (freeze or refrigerate the leftovers).  Make a grocery list while you’re planning the meals to ensure you have all ingredients you need.  Get all your groceries the day before you go back to work because I don’t know anyone who wants to spend any time in a grocery store after a 12h shift.

If you shop at a place like Costco it’s a little more work the day you shop just because of the volume of food, but it is so worth it later in the week/month.  You’ll need to freeze in portions (depending on the size of your family you’ll need to cut things up and freeze them in smaller or individual portions).  Wash and cut up ALL veggies you buy (this is the least fun part about me shopping at Costco!)…makes it way easier to choose these as a snack, and also way quicker to pack in your lunch.  If you’re making something that week that requires them to be cut up a certain way, do that on this day as well.  You’ll be so happy you did this when you get home from that 12h shift.

Look at your meal plan each day to see what is planned for tomorrow.  Take out the appropriate stuff from the freezer (usually meat) so it is thawed by tomorrow night.  If you’re energetic the day before prep some of the stuff ahead of time if you didn’t do it the day you bought groceries (chop up veggies, etc).

It’s a bit of work off the hop trying to think of meal ideas for 5-7 days at a time, but I promise it gets easier as you go.  And if you’re following a recipe or trying something new you’ll know that you have all the ingredients for it because you bought them earlier in the week!

And when you’re stuck thinking of something to eat the next week, look back on your meal plans from the weeks prior….you’ll find you rotate though meals a little bit (unless you only know how to make 7 meals HA HA!) and hopefully won’t get sick of eating the same thing all the time.

Happy meal planning!

So you want to be a healthier shift worker?

Of course we all want to be healthier!  Anyone who works shift work knows that we have a higher risk of almost everything (disease, earlier death, etc).  So why would anyone choose a job where shift work is the norm?!  Because we LOVE it and are passionate about it!  So, what can you do to try and minimize the risks?  I have a few ideas, some of which I’ve discussed in previous blog posts but are worth mentioning again because they are just that important!

  1. SLEEP!  Sleep is so so so important!  Not just after your day shifts and night shifts, but every single time you sleep!  You need to strive for 8 hours or as close to it as possible.  I discussed some nights shift sleep tips in this blog post.
  2. FOOD!  You need to eat real, whole foods and stay away from packaged foods that are full of sugar and other garbage!  See this blog post about sugar, and this blog post about reading food labels.
  3. WATER!  Everyone needs to drink lots and lots of water in a day.  I know you’ll need to pee lots, and that sometimes this is not a great thing on a busy shift as a Paramedic (unless you want to have to use your patient’s bathroom!).  So, just drink as much as you can!  No, Red Bull and coffee and pop don’t count!  Here’s a few tips to help you drink more water.
  4. STRETCH!  Even just for 5-10 minutes a day.  Before shift, during shift, after shift, at home, whenever!  I wrote about a few on duty stretches that are easy to do in uniform here.
  5. EXERCISE!  I don’t care what you do, just get out and move!  Run, walk, ride your bike, go to a class at a gym, sign up for a community association program (bonus…these are usually cheaper than at a gym!), anything!  Find something you enjoy doing and/or find a buddy to do it with you!  You’ll help keep each other accountable!
  6. LAUGH!  I hope you work somewhere as fun as I do and can laugh a TON with your fabulous co-workers!  Find some fun friends outside of work that you can have a blast with as well!  Go to a funny movie, anything that will make you laugh!  It truly is the best medicine!

None of these are new ideas, and I know you’ve all heard them before.  But maybe this is the one time you’ll take one of the suggestions to heart and change something in your lifestyle.

Feel free to share any tips you have to become a healthier Medic!

WATER WATER WATER!

DRINK MORE WATER!  How many times a day/week/month do you hear that?  Have you ever tried to drink as much water as “they” recommend in a day?  How did you feel (other than having to pee all the time?!)?

Dieticians of Canada recommend 3L of water for men and 2L of water for women PER DAY! That is a TON of water.  Now, they do state this can come from milk, juice, etc. but also state that water is the best choice.

How on earth can you possibly get even close to that recommended amount?  Here are a few ideas:
1. Drink a glass of water as soon as you get up in the morning.
2. Keep a water bottle with you at all times during the day and sip on it continuously (at work, in the car, at home, at the gym).
3. Have a glass of water with each meal.
4. Make it taste good (if you don’t like the taste of plain water).  Add fresh foods like lemons, strawberries, mint, cucumber, limes, etc…the possibilities are endless.  One of my favourites is mint and cucumber, it’s so refreshing!  Try to stay away from other additions to your water (Crystal Light powders, squeezable squirter things, etc)…they add unnecessary crap (like sugar).  And it goes without saying that pop doesn’t count toward your water intake!
5.  Add (or subtract) ice!  I HATE warm water.  So I bought myself a really awesome, large, water bottle that keeps ice and my water cold all day long…even in the summer.
6.  If you are really bad at remembering to drink water….there’s an app for that!  There are actually apps out there that will set an alert to remind you to drink water.

Yes, you will have to pee more!  But I guarantee you’ll feel better!   Less headaches, less craving those not so healthy foods, better digestion, less UTIs (if you’re prone to them), the list is endless.
It should also go without saying that the more active you are, or the more you are sweating, the more water you need to consume (on top of the 2-3 L that is recommended).

Happy water drinking!

 

References:

Dieticians of Canada:
http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Water/Why-is-water-so-important-for-my-body—Know-when-.aspx

 

What motivates you?

I bet many of you struggle to maintain motivation to eat healthy, be consistently physically active, and many other healthy lifestyle struggles.

As a Peer Fitness Trainer, I have recently started trying out a few challenges with some of my coworkers that I can tell want to make some changes in their lives.  These challenges are still fairly recent and new, but so far they are appearing to be quite successful and a lot of fun for both myself and the person achieving them (way to go to those people who’ve successfully completed one of my challenges!).

But, it’s got me wondering…why do people need some sort of challenge from an external source (i.e. me) to hold them accountable for their actions?  Why isn’t the internal motivation of “I want to be healthier” or “I want to feel better” or “I want my pants to fit better” enough?

I definitely don’t know the answer, but I do know that external motivation is the key factor in a lot of people achieving their health and wellness goals (myself included).  Think about it…people sign up for a fitness class with a friend.  Why?  Because they know they will keep each other accountable and actually attend the classes.  People sign up for group sports for the same reason…accountability.  Money can also be a motivating factor….if I’m spending all this $$$ on these classes I better actually attend the classes.  Weight loss groups work in a similar way…being held accountable to the group, or the weigh ins, or the inches lost, etc, etc, etc.

I don’t care what motivates you, but you HAVE to find that person or reason to get yourself going!!  Here are some suggestions for keeping yourself motivated and accountable:

  1. Find a buddy!  This would be my #1 recommendation!  Find a friend who has the same interests as you (whether it’s fitness or nutrition) and hold each other accountable at all times.  Start a FB group, or text message group and talk as often as you need to in order to stay on track.
  2. Ensure your goals are SMART:
    S:  Specific.  “I’m going to walk 30min a day 3x a week” vs. “I’m going to walk more”
    M: Measurable.  “Eat at least 4 servings of vegetables a day” vs. “Eat more veggies”
    A: Achievable.  If you hate running, do NOT make a goal that you are going to run!
    R: Realistic.  “I’m going to do yoga 5x a week and run 3x a week and play soccer 4x a week…as well as work full time, spend time with your family, etc”.  That is definitely not a realistic goal in my world!
    T: Time.  There has to be a deadline.  For example…my first SMART goals I made with my coworkers had a deadline.  Once that deadline hits I made contact with them to see how they did (and also contacted them through their challenge to see how it was going, and made them aware that they could contact me at any time).  And, it allowed us to make new SMART goals with a new deadline.
  3. You have to want to make a change.  Be honest with yourself.  If you have no ambition or desire to make the change (no matter what it is or how big or small it is) it won’t be successful.  Everyone wants to be healthier or fitter or look better in a bathing suit, but if you aren’t serious about it it’s not going to work.  You just have to think a little harder about a more achievable or SMART goal that you actually want to accomplish and can be successful at.
  4. This one fits in with the “T” of SMART goals….but make sure your goal has a deadline.  Training towards something will also help you be successful.  Some examples…a run (there’s tons of races around Saskatchewan and area in the summer!), a physical test (our PFT test, a hiring physical, etc), your wedding, someone else’s wedding, a certain birthday/anniversary, etc, etc, etc.  Having that end goal is often huge for people!

I can blabber on all I want about how to get motivated, but unless you find that thing that gets you started all this talk is just talk!  I just hope one of my suggestions will sink in and help one of you!

Please comment and share with me what motivates you!  I’d love to hear it!