Improve Your Cholesterol, Improve Your Career

Heart Disease is the leading cause of death of both men and women in the United States. It’s also one the leading causes of death in firefighters and for more than 1 reason. However, in this article we are discussing it with its link to cholesterol. So what is cholesterol and what does it due to our bodies?

For starters, cholesterol is a fat found in your blood that is developed in the liver but your body can also receive it from meat, fish, eggs, butter, cheese, and whole or low-fat milk. Everyone needs some cholesterol in their bodies in order to function properly such as your brain, skin and bodily organs. What cholesterol is doing for your body is acting a building block for your cells as well as helping repair damaged cells especially ones found in the blood vessels and the dietary tract.

If cholesterol is helping your body, why is it bad?

Well, foodhigh in additives, preservatives and other toxic processes will cause cells to become damaged and are most likely found in refined and processed carbohydrates. This will cause the cholesterol to flow around the blood and eventually cling onto the walls of your blood vessels, thus causing the vessels to become narrower as time goes on eventually clogging the vessels. A clogged vessel does not allow for proper blood flow through the vessel potentially causing a heart attack (lack of oxygen-rich blood)or stroke (decreased blood flow to thebrain) to name a few.

To be on top of our game and have long lasting career and life, we can as firefighters help ourselves and families to help improve our cholesterol levels.

1. Eat heart-healthy foods

a. Healthier Fats

i. Saturated fats, founds in red meat and dairy will raise your total cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) also known as “bad” cholesterol. Rule of thumb: 7% or less of your daily caloric intake should be from saturated fats.

ii. Leaner cuts of meat such as London broil, top sirloin, chicken breast, 96% lean ground beef and pork tenderloin are other healthier options along with low-fat dairy and monounsaturated fats which is found in olive and canola oils.

b. Eliminate Trans Fats

i. Trans fats affect cholesterol levels by increasing LDL levels (“bad”) and lowering the (“good”) HDL levels. Trans fats can be found in fried foods and many processed foods such as cookies, crackers and snack cakes. In the U.S., food containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving is consider “trans fat-free”.

c. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

i. Omega-3’s don’t have an effect on LDL cholesterol (“bad”) however it does have heart benefits. Some benefits omega-3 has are helping to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”), reducing triglycerides (type of fat in blood) and reduces blood pressure.

ii. Types of fish rich in omega-3 are salmon, mackerel and herring. Other good sources include krill oil, walnuts and almonds.

d. Soluble Fiber

i. There are 2 types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Although both have heart-health benefits, soluble fiber also helps to lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and all you’ll need to do is all a little more fiber to your diet.

ii. High in fiber foods are oats, fruits, beans, lentils and vegetables.

e. Whey Protein

i. Whey protein given as a supplement according to studies has shown to lower both LDL and total cholesterol. So if you’re in the gym, at home or in the firehouse working out and GETTING AFTER IT, don’t forget to include whey protein in your diet.

2. Exercise

i. Exercise has been known to improve cholesterol especially help raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Before engaging in any physical activities, please consult with your physician beforehand.

If you want a long, healthy and prosperous career and a long life with your family your health comes first. Protecting the front lines and take care of our own comes above all else. Please remember to consult with your physician before looking into any of these recommendations as this is for informational purposes.

Until next time; work hard, stay safe & live inspired.

About the Author

NICHOLAS J. HIGGINS is a firefighter with 16 years in the fire service in Piscataway, NJ, a NJ State certified level 2 fire instructor and a State of New Jersey Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation. A martial arts practitioner in Taekwondo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai as well as a former collegiate athlete in baseball, Nick is a National Exercise & Sports Trainer Association Battle Ropes Instructor and studying for the Functional Fitness Instructor certification.  He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Kean University and is the founder/contributor of the Firehouse Tribune website.  

Unexpected Wisdom

 "Ah, nothing like the smell of propane to wake you up in the morning!" That's what I tell myself riding on the back of the hazardous material unit. We are off to a propane gas leak at a home. Some of you may only be familiar with propane containers used for home grills. Trust me, that is not what we are going to. Imagine a container the size of 4 of those entire grills put together. If that not's big enough of a problem, have that container buried underground. Grab a Snickers bar, we are going to be here awhile.

As expected, we ride down the road with red lights turning and the siren yelling. Once there, we make sure we have on all our fire department gear. Our hand-held meter for detecting propane is turned on and working. Someone has laid out and charged a hose line just in case the gas finds a spark and goes boom just like the YouTube videos. With some specialized training, and some not so specialized items found at the local hardware store, we stop the leak. So now we wait for the expert to come fix the problem: the guy from the gas company.

A white van moseys on up to the scene. The side has the gas company's logo on it. One guy steps out with the usual attire for an event like this: jeans, t-shirt, and work boots. To make sure he meets the right level of safety, he puts on a helmet and some gloves. Don't worry, I am pretty sure these come from the same local hardware store we got our hazmat stuff. We sit there, with structural firefighting gear on, ready to save anyone in a 50 ft radius. Meanwhile, the gas company expert is dressed the same way I dress when I mow my lawn, minus the helmet.

I then hear a voice say "This is what an expert looks like?" That voice, was just me thinking really loud. Have you ever done that? Looked a person and said, "Where is the REAL expert? You can't be it." If you have, then you now know what it is to be bias. When we talk about it in regards to ethnicity, or gender, or religion, people get real nervous or defensive about being called bias. Truth is, we are all bias about something. Bias works the same way no matter what yours happens to be. The question is, what are you doing with yours?

I decided to go talk to this so-called expert. I asked questions. And I listened, and listened, and listened. I learned a lot about underground propane tanks worked. The gas guy really was an expert. And I really was self-righteous for thinking otherwise based on a look. It's really a pretty simple concept: Asking questions gets you information. Not just about propane, but about people as well. You never know when an ordinary question will have an extraordinary answer.   

About the Author

 NICK BASKERVILLE has had the honor of serving in the United States Air Force for 10 years, followed by 4 years in the United States Air Force Reserves. He attained the rank of Technical Sergeant (E-6). Nick also has 16 years of fire service time, with 13 years of that being in a career department in Northern Virginia. Nick has had the opportunity to hold positions in the Company Officer's section of the Virginia Fire Chief's Association (VFCA), The Virginia Fire Officer's Academy (VFOA) staff, and in the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF) as a chapter president, a Health and Wellness committee member, and one of the IABPFF representatives to the Fire Service Occupational Cancer Alliance.

Sleep and Firefighters

One thing firefighters have been known to lack, is lack of sleep. Generally, not something that is talked about or brought up in conversation, but lack of sleep has links to firefighter injury and death. Think about it, emergency service personnel live off shift work and interrupted sleep patterns which are out of their control since alarms can happen any time of any day.

According to The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, sleep or interrupted sleep patterns could be a major factor in more than 60 percent of firefighter deaths. The majority of these are caused by heart attacks and traffic accidents. Research has shown that approximately 7,000 firefighters have reported to suffer from numerous sleep disorders such as obstructed sleep apnea, insomnia and shift-work disorder which was reported by the New York Times.

They also reported firefighters are also more likely to develop serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety because of sleep disorders. In addition to these health problems, firefighters are also likely to report an increase in kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke and obesity.


Firefighter Deaths Could be Linked to Poor Sleep

Helen Regan Nov. 14, 2014

Sleep plays an integral role in physical health and especially of one of a functional athlete.

The human body is built with an internal clock and changing to our sleep patterns at any time can disrupt or alter the internal clock which is built on routine – something we don’t have much of as firefighters. While sleeping our bodies are healing and repairing our heart, blood vessels, muscles and allowing our bodies to heal. In addition, sleep with repair and consolidate memory. 

So what could we do to ensure we get a sufficient amount of sleep off duty so we are recharged and energized for our next shift?

Here are a few tips to try while off duty:

1. Routine. This is important. Stick to a sleep schedule while home.

2. Power Down. Turn off or avoid all electronic devices 30-60 minutes prior to bed.

3. Keep Cool. Try to keep the bedroom cooler than other areas of the house. Majority of people sleep more soundly in a cooler bedroom.

4. No alcohol or caffeine. Both are known to disrupt sleep patterns either by unexpected wake ups or restless sleep.

5. Comfort. Invest in a pillow and/or mattress that’s comforting to you. This also helps eliminate muscle, nerve and joint pains especially headaches.

6. FAST. Try hard to avoid large meals close to bedtime as much as possible.

Proper training, proper nutrition and proper recovery (along with sleep) are all vital to our success as firefighters on the job and off. 

Until next time; work hard, stay safe & life inspired.

About the Author

NICHOLAS J. HIGGINS is a firefighter with 16 years in the fire service all within departments in Piscataway, NJ. Nick has held the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain as well as being a township elected District Fire Commissioner for 1 term (3 years) in Piscataway, NJ. He is also a NJ State certified level 2 fire instructor and currently a State of New Jersey Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Kean University working in Corporate Taxation and is the founder/contributor of the Firehouse Tribune website.