Stress, Cortisol Complicate Fire Service Work

Reblogged from :

Understanding your body’s physiological responses means understanding that the effects of firefighting can take their toll as soon as the alarm sounds. (Lloyd Mitchell photo)

Dan DeGryse, BA, BS, CEAP, CADC, LAP/C, Battalion Chief, Chicago Fire Department; Director, Rosecrance Florian ProgramPublished Friday, February 20, 2015

As firefighters, we go from 0 to 60 mph in a matter of seconds when we hear the bell ring at the fire station.

We race to gear up and to process the information about where we’re headed. But we don’t prepare our bodies for that rush of adrenaline. Given the unexpected nature of the work, I’m not sure how we would or could. It’s not as easy as warming up or stretching before exercising.

Our bodies release adrenaline and cortisol when they’re stressed. Cortisol is a stress hormone – actually, a steroid hormone. (I call it a hormone on steroids.) It’s great to get you going, but is it healthy for our hearts to race 10 to 15 times a day? That’s 30,000 instances of a racing heart just on the job alone if you do the math over a 30-year career.

I started researching cortisol – how it affects the immune system, the digestive tract, concentration, etc. – a few years ago after studying the suicide rate within the Chicago Fire Department. I looked at other main causes of death, and heart disease topped the list, as it does nationally. Diet, exercise, smoking and heredity are some of the main risk factors for heart disease, but excessive stress can contribute to those risks.

What if I get that injection of cortisol and my heart goes through the roof, but then I find out it’s a false alarm? Now what? How do I get my heart rate back to normal, and where do the adrenaline and cortisol go? My understanding is they get absorbed back into the body, and that made me wonder if we truly know the effects of what happens when that occurs.

When I hear the firehouse bell go off, it’s like a jolt. Even though it may not be for me, I can still feel my heart race a bit, and I have to sit there and breathe, relax and try to calm down. That’s just an attempt to get my body back to its neutral state; that doesn’t reduce the amount of adrenaline and cortisol that were just released in my body.

Former U.S. Fire Administrator Olin Green wrote in 1991 about the dangers of stress within the fire service. But after more than 25 years on the job, I hadn’t heard anything about that until I started researching the topic. I never looked at stress as a possible hindrance until now. And I don’t want the next 25 years to pass without addressing it.

For many years, we’ve talked about improving personal protective equipment: bunker gear, helmets, self-contained breathing apparatuses, hoods, gloves and boots. We’ve also found out that the heat buildup inside of our bodies and the skin exposure to carcinogens are as dangerous as us breathing in something toxic.

I’m finding out that adrenaline and cortisol, which are naturally occurring and necessary for us when in our fight-or-flight mode, are potentially hurting us from the inside out.

The cortisol in our bodies is typically highest in the morning to help get us going. The level of cortisol lowers throughout the day in sync with our circadian rhythm. The level is lowest – half of the morning level – at night. But if we’re constantly stressed by the firehouse alarms or during runs, what are the effects of the continually higher levels of cortisol on our minds and bodies?

Although there is research available on this subject for military and police personnel, I haven’t found any related to the fire service. My hope is that further research on the topic geared toward the fire service will help spread awareness about the physiological effects of stress we experience throughout our careers.

For example, when I look at my own physiological responses regarding this issue, I can tell you that when I come home after a long shift and being up most of the night, I feel like I’m shaking from the inside out. I try to meditate before I go to sleep so I don’t have that feeling.

Another example of the physiological effects of cortisol: I spoke to a coworker who has 27 years on the job, and he told me he wakes up pretty much every night at 1 a.m. He wrestles around, gets up to walk around and then tries to go back to bed. He had a sleep study, and the technicians figured out that he typically doesn’t have one minute of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which helps give us more energy during the day. Cortisol levels also fluctuate during sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Some people take medication to help them sleep, while others might have a drink before bed. Self-medication can quickly progress to addiction. We know that all too well.

That’s part of the reason why I split my time between work as a battalion chief with the Chicago Fire Department and Rosecrance, a leading provider of addiction and mental health treatment services in Rockford, Illinois. In fall 2014, I worked with Rosecrance to help launch the Florian Program, which is the first program in the country dedicated to treating fire service personnel with an eight-bed coed inpatient unit.

That program aims to help firefighters and paramedics with serious substance abuse and mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Knowing what we know now about cortisol’s overall effects on our long-term well-being, we are incorporating its significance into our program.

Florian clients will have their cortisol levels tested initially when they check in for treatment. Dr. Raymond Garcia, medical director at the Rosecrance Harrison Campus, where the Florian Program is located, will evaluate those tests to check for abnormalities and to see if there’s a need to incorporate techniques for clients on how to de-stress. Clients whose cortisol levels have been identified as abnormal will be retested at the end of treatment to evaluate progress and treatment success.

We can educate them about stress and cortisol and give them tips on what to do when they return to their jobs, because they’ll face the same triggers and traumas as they did before treatment.

Research has shown that low-intensity exercises, yoga, meditation, breathing techniques and acupuncture can help reduce cortisol release in the body. Avoiding sugar and caffeine is best after a jolt of cortisol. Eat fruit high in vitamin C and food high in protein (eggs, lean meat), zinc (seafood) and magnesium (spinach), and avoid high-carbohydrate foods and sugary desserts.

And what if there’s a way to change the tones in the firehouse? We don’t have all the answers yet. Until we do, let’s research and study the issue first.

Because doing nothing for the next 25 years is unacceptable.


What the American Diet says about its Culture

The Secular Jurist

By Robert A. Vella

If we are what we eat, as the old adage proclaims, then what does the American diet say about its culture? Before delving into this, let’s state for the record that the U.S. is a large nation with many diverse regions and subcultures. What people eat in rural Georgia, for example, can be quite different from an affluent city such as San Francisco. However, there is a larger American culture which transcends these differences and its cuisine is unmistakably unique compared with the rest of the world.

Consider the burger, or its original moniker – the hamburger. The idea of a ground beef patty sandwiched in a bun is so ubiquitous that virtually all types of food establishments serve them. The manager of my local Chinese restaurant revealed once that he sold nearly as many burgers as he did specialty items. You can get…

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Lose fat for this summer

Read this and take notes if you want to lose fat for summer.

2015 is steamrolling forward and not letting up. February is here and it’s time to get down to business when it comes to being beach ready. The summer months are closing in and right now is the time to lose fat and get in the best shape of your life.

Here is the lowdown on dropping the fat you don’t want on your body. Whether it’s your stomach, thighs, hips, or arms, follow this plan and start now and you will have an awesome chance of losing serious weight by the time the fourth of July swings around.

Being mindful of your nutrition and exercise is the most important key to your success and here’s why. When you are stuck in a rut and not losing weight and not training hard, it’s probable that you’re mindset is not in line with the desire for losing weight. When we go grocery shopping, the steps of success are being built. Often, we listen to marketing campaigns that drive us away from our end result. We believe greek yogurt is better than eggs or we grab 100 calorie snack packs because the packages say it’s good for you. Next time you go shopping, pick up a 100 calorie cookie snack pack that promises it’s good for you and ask yourself “Is this going to help me burn fat?”

The obvious answer will come to you right away.

Step one in the journey to healthy and fit in 2015 is to be mindful of the process and not let yourself get into a unconscious blur. You don’t want to get caught up in that blur because it can crush your results. Being mindful of your schedule, the proper foods to buy, cook, and eat, the workout program you’re on, and hydration and sleep will bring you the best results.

So now, here are some immediate things you can do that will help you drop bodyfat, help you feel better, and get you out of the rut you might be stuck in:

– Drink more water.

If you drink one glass of water today, drink two tomorrow and then add another the next day. Work your way up to around seven or eight bottles of water a day and you will be fully hydrated, which helps your body burn more fat. A lack of hydration can mess with your energy levels, performance in the gym, and functions of the body’s hormones and digestive system.

– Eat these foods:

Lean Meats. Chicken, Turkey, Beef, Buffalo, Pork, Venison, and Fish

Vegetables: Romaine Lettuce, Spinach, Cauliflower, Peppers, Carrots, Onions, Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers and more. Make the produce section the place where you spend most of your time at the grocery store. Most stores have prepackaged salads that are great to grab a few handfuls from and take with you to work.

Nuts and Seeds. Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Hemp Seeds, more.

Fruit. Apples, Bananas, Lemons, Limes, Berries of all kinds, and more.

Also eggs should be in your diet.

Cook with coconut oil, olive oil, or real butter.

Eating rices and potatoes are fine. Keep them to one meal a day and it’s best if it’s after a workout. Carbs don’t make you fat. Eating too much food and not moving enough does.

A lunch or dinner plate should look like this:

One Serving of a lean meat

Two Servings of Vegetables

One Serving of Nuts or Seeds or Nut/Seed Butter

One Servings of a carb source like Rice or Potato (preferably once a day after a workout)

For breakfast, I usually eat 4 to 6 eggs or I just grab a Whey or Hemp Protein shake and a banana or apple if I’m in a rush.

The key to success with nutrition is to eat healthy and whole foods. You should absolutely avoid foods that have a lot of processed material in them. Foods like microwave popcorn won’t help you see fat loss. Foods that you find in the snack and cereal aisle like weight watcher cookies or 100 calorie pretzels won’t help you see fat loss. The more real, quality, foods that you eat, the better your results will be.

Once your nutrition and hydration are in order, it’s time to talk about exercise.

– Exercise at the level of your current fitness.

Many people are afraid of exercise. It burns the muscles, the lungs, gets the heart pumping and uses our energy. Sometimes we just don’t have any energy left after dealing with the kids, the jobs, the dog, and more, but exercise doesn’t need to scare you.

For beginners, there is no reason why you won’t lose a lot of fat by simply walking for a few minutes everyday. Walking is the most underrated exercise there is for people it benefits most. Walking doesn’t burn as many calories as running or burpees, but for people who have a hard time breathing during heavy exercise or have a lot of weight to lose, walking is simply the best thing you can do. But, you also have to make it more challenging every time. That might mean walk faster, go further, or walk longer.

There is a large number of people I’ve encountered who have no time to exercise. They’re schedules are packed with work, kids, sports, school, and many other important life events. But that doesn’t have to stop you from working out. Sure, it’s hard to just get started at home, especially when you don’t have the accountability of a coach like those at Activate Fitness, but you can always find ten minutes for an at-home workout.

Here is a sample at home workout you can perform right now that will shed fat in 10 or 15 minutes.

10 Bodyweight Squats
10 Push Ups
10 Sit Ups
20 Jumping Jacks

Repeat that circuit for 10,15,20 minutes or more.

For those of you who have time to make it to the gym and are able to perform workouts effectively, you want to make sure you train three to four times a week. Progression in strength, endurance, and mobility is important. As you train you should be working on getting stronger and feeling like you can get through an intense workout better. Simply showing up for a workout and going through the motions will not help you produce the change you’re after.

This brings me to my secret weapon when it comes to losing fat fast.

A notebook.

Several years ago I was 60 pounds overweight and struggling to drop fat. I was working out four times a week and trying to eat the healthiest I could at the time. The problem was, I was not losing weight. I was stuck and it pissed me off. Then one day, I heard someone talking about how record keeping, writing your daily foods and exercise, in a notebook is one of the most powerful things we can when trying to lose weight.

Within 30 days of writing down everything I ate and what I did during my workouts, I lost over 20 pounds. Within 60 days, well over 30 pounds. Over half of the entire weight I lost from when I was my fattest came within two months of writing things down. Sounds like something you should do huh?

Here’s an example of an entry in a notebook.

5 am workout
Trap Bar Deadlifts with 225 pounds 5 sets of 5
Push Ups 5 sets of 20
1 Arm DB Rows 4 sets of 20 with 60 pound dumbbell
Bodyweight Walking Lunges 4 sets of 100 feet
Plank 4 sets for 1 minute

Finished workout with 5 minutes of Jump Rope

6:30am- Breakfast
4 eggs
1 Banana

9:30am- Snack
1 Scoop of Whey Protein
2 ounces of Almonds

1pm- Lunch

6 Ounces of Chicken Breast
2 Handfuls of Spinach/Mixed Green Salad
2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 Ounces of Mixed Pumpkin and Sunflower Seeds

4pm- Snack

1 Red Apple
2 carrots sliced
1 TBSP of natural peanut butter

6pm- Dinner

6 Ounces of Pork Chops
2 Handfuls of Spinach/Mixed Green Salad
2 TBSP Olive Oil
1 Cup of White Rice
2 Ounces of Mixed Nuts on Salad

8pm- Dessert

1 Cup of Mixed, Sliced Strawberries and Blueberries
1 TBSP of Heavy Whipped Cream

That is a perfect notebook entry for when you’re trying to lose weight. It shows you exactly what you did, when you did it, and it keeps it recorded so you can always go back and look or show your coach if you have one. Doing this takes roughly a few minutes each day and if it seems like a hassle to you, most likely you don’t want to lose fat, you’re just pretending.

Now that we have your hydration, your nutrition, your exercise and movement, and the secret weapon (a notebook), the last thing to do is talk about:

– Sleep

How long do you sleep each day? 4, 5, 8 hours?

“The best I can do” is usually the answer and for awhile, it’s okay. You can’t change it right away but it should be worked on. If you sleep less than 7 or 8 hours a night, working on getting more will help you lose more fat in 2015. If possible, like on weekends, find time to nap. Even if it’s 30 minutes. Napping is a great way to relax the body and help yourself catch up on needed rest. Sleep has a big effect on performance and mindfulness, work on it.

I am confident that if you follow these simple guidelines you will burn more fat than ever before. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed though. If one thing is harder than the others, don’t make it as big of a deal until you have the ability to focus and make it happen.

Some people have no time to cook. While eating out isn’t the best thing to do, you can find alternatives to menu items that are somewhat in-line with the foods I listed. Don’t just give up and blow your diet.

Workouts are hard to do and finish. Start where you are. If a 10 minute walk fatigues you, that is progress and not something that should get you down. It’s a small success that will lead to big results. If you can’t make it to the gym, do the circuit above for a few minutes and be happy that you had the ability to do it in the first place. Sometimes you have to find the inner strength to make the workouts happen as well. If the baby naps and that time is the only peaceful quiet time you have all day, it’s probably a good bet that you should train during that time. It will make you feel better.

The key to your success in 2015 when it comes to losing fat is your mindset. Say it’s hard or not worth it and you’ll be stuck exactly where you stand. Accept the resistance of exercise, the difficulty of scheduling, shopping and cooking, and you will find that you have the time and ability to get in the best shape of your life. Drop the excuses. There are none. The only reason you have for not getting results is the fact that you don’t want to try. All it takes is a little effort and you will change your life.

The injury was short lived………….Use caution when weight training on “machines”.

Fact is, if you train and push yourself there is a good chance that you will get injured. But the idea is to only get injured a tiny bit and say to yourself “whoa, something just happened here and I need to stop and take a break”. In the old days I would keep training and then that tiny injury would be a bigger one and my time off would be longer.

I was hurt while doing shoulder press on the Hammer Strength shoulder press machine and I wasn’t even going heavy. The system puts you in a seated position with your shoulders cocked back in a pretty rigid form. Suddenly this position is not very nice for me. I felt it the minute I started using the machine. Thats why I didn’t go heavy. It just felt off, slightly awkward.  My right shoulder seemed like it was being put in a bad place. But this never happened before! So after a few light sets I walked away and within that hour it was throbbing.

So for two weeks I did not train shoulders. I didn’t even bench press but I was very happy to see that dips were not a problem for me. One big problem was that I couldn’t do anything over head with my right arm. I am a ladder guy or a truck guy if you will on the job and raising ladders was a big problem. But I compensated with using my left arm for any type of overhead action and asking for help from my work mates. After two weeks and a few advil a day it felt good but still wasn’t right.

It was clear to me that somewhere in my shoulder cuff there was an impingement. It felt like it needed to “pop” to feel better but I just couldn’t get to. Then one morning I was playing rough with my almost 2 yr old daughter and I reached out and did something and all at once I felt a pop with a little tinge of pain and then a big relief at the end. It was still sore for a few days after but quickly went away.

I conclude that I may have lost some mobility in my shoulder(s) from either age, too much work,too much training or all the above. I either have some torn up cartilage that got “hung up” or I just beat up some ligaments that went into recoil and shock from what I did to them. Since the injury I have gone back to doing shoulders using free weights and have no problems. The only other time I hurt my shoulder was when I was doing shoulder press on a smith machine. It was like 10 yrs ago now but that injury took a full 2 yrs to fully recover.

The bottom line….. shoulders can be strong muscles but the joint is actually weak based on its nature. It is also very complex and susceptible to many forms of injury. It has been argued that using “machines” for weight training are where we get our injuries from because they fix the movement into a plane that lock your joint in. Out of experience, I have had 2 shoulder injuries , one in each shoulder, and they both occurred on a machine and not when using free weights.

I will still use machines and free weights but I will never use a smith machine or hammer strength machine for shoulders ever again. That seems to be one of my weaknesses