What is the first thought that enters your mind when you hear the word fitness? What do you picture as a model of fitness? I know for many years growing up I always thought of it in terms of the different sports from bodybuilding to cycling or from boxing to swimming. The Olympics are the picture of fitness in all areas featuring all athletes. The typical American, however, is not an Olympian. We do not have the coaches, dietitians, and managers dictating daily life keeping us on track to perform at our best. However, it is the typical American who often undertakes scuba diving, and progresses into the technical diving world and even into the public safety realm.
For those who chose life in the military, like myself
Fitness is stressed from day one at basic training (or boot camp depending on when and where you entered military service). More focus is placed on the physical acts of exercising, and less on understanding dietary needs. For years, I thought I was doing well in terms of being fit, as I could score near maximum on my bi-annual physical fitness test and could perform my job without issue. This was also a time when I was eating the food I was provided by the military in our dining facilities. In a sense, I was eating per a diet plan without fully understanding the concept. So, let us fast forward to after I got married; now my diet changed. I began eating in a way I thought was good for me, but as Josh Norris shared in the last article, this concept was by ways portrayed in the media. Even though I stayed fit over the years, I was not as fit as I had once been, and certainly had to work harder to maintain that state of fitness. Injury showed me exactly how bad my eating habits were for me, and gave me cause to do some research. I sought the help of a dietician along with the help of my rehabilitation team, and became determined to understand more and become better than I was before. This has been a journey reaching beyond retirement.
Shortly before retiring from the Army
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Thomas Powell and Josh Norris from Air Hogs Scuba. Many times, we have discussed fitness in general, in diving, and how we have seen and heard lots of excuses for not being able to be fit. There was one conversation that truly piqued my interest while standing in the shop. Both Thomas and Josh were discussing a new diet plan and how their dietician said it would benefit them, allowing them to lose weight. I had already been eating the way they were discussing for over a year and had lost around 60 pounds – as they both would during their diet journey. I changed nothing except the way I was eating, and I was interested to see the effects it would have on them. Research only becomes more valid and reliable if the numbers have enough consistency and repeatable outcomes to support the findings. In this sense, I saw it as a research project for my own benefit to solidify my knowledge and understanding of ketogenic eating. I had other friends who benefited greatly from this before me and I knew my own results.
What do I believe I have learned in all of this?
Our bodies are designed to run efficiently if we pay attention to the fuels we take in. The problem lies in the convenience of today’s food service world of ready-to-order and pre-packaged food for eating on the run. Our bodies can easily run on either carbohydrates or fats as a main fuel source, and to use proteins for building and repairing as we were designed. Does this mean we can process both equally? The answer is no, and is, in large part, why I believe we have problems maintaining fitness in our community. The three of us at Air Hogs have lost weight simply by reducing the intake of one and balancing the intake of the other. Exercising has only increased our ability to maintain a higher level of fitness. The time for excuses is over.
Divers are among the people I always thought would hold fitness in high regard. Yet, some of the people I would least expect to have excuses against eating right, losing weight, and exercising are in the public safety world. Public Safety divers with excuses create a much larger set of issues than your normal diver who can choose the time, place, and conditions of the dive. Diving in general places additional stress on our bodies even when we can see and it is for fun. The act of diving is in a sense exercising producing elevated heart rates and physical stresses the body must deal with through biological means. Imagine what it does when there is no visibility as you are searching for someone or something by feel, and you have all the normal diving considerations to deal with along the way. Data has shown in other research that our heart rates and stress levels can reach maximum levels in events where we have complete control and knowledge. This increases exponentially for public safety divers performing their duties. I chose not to be one of the excusers.
Why would I want added stress on my heart because of my weight?
More specifically, the amount of fat I was carrying around because I liked to eat as I had learned through bad habits? I was relieved and excited to be able to see my lean body mass increase while my body fat percentage decreases as I continue along my journey of becoming more fit physically, mentally, and in performance of my duties as a public safety diver. Myself, Thomas, and Josh all share similar results with our diets being the only shared feature. Achieving fitness must be a choice, but getting started is easier than people think. We, as divers, need to exercise personal responsibility in choosing and executing the way to fitness for ourselves. My thought is: how can we be inspiration to those around us to facilitate change for the better promoting fitness and well-being?
Fitness in diving, specifically public safety diving, allows us to perform, be successful, and refrain from injury. Obesity and laziness are the killers of public safety personnel. Public safety divers often find themselves in the least preferable conditions doing the dirtiest of work. Fitness is how we are going to stay alive in the long run. I chose fitness and feel great because of my choice. Now I ask, what are you going to choose?
About the author:
Soldier, Firefighter, and Public Safety Diver: A Personal Journey
Italino “Tony” Pietrantonio
Divemaster – Air Hogs Scuba, Clayton, NC
Captain – Flat Branch Fire Department, Bunnlevel, NC
Lieutenant/ERD Supervisor – Harnett County Underwater Search & Recovery Dive Team, Angier, NC
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