Balance in action

Balance in action

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

CFB Esquimalt’s Naval Training Development Centre was quick off the mark in implementing Balance, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) new physical performance strategy.

Only days after the CAF’s new fitness strategy was announced, Commander Alain Sauvé introduced measures to support its goals.

He’s encouraging supervisors to have military personnel attend PSP-led physical training (PT) events or other physical activities of their choosing; is making the monthly Formation Run mandatory; and is promoting the daily hour of fitness for both physical and mental health.

Full compliance is crucial to making the new measures effective, he says.

He believes the establishment of designated time blocks for fitness are equally important as the assignments, meetings and regular duties they perform. His measures are an effort to “create a culture change.”

“Everyone wants to be fit but making an effort to do so isn’t always easy, so now they have the support of their chain of command to follow their goals,” said Cdr Sauvé. “The unit’s supervisors have been instructed to give that time back to their employees, and the command team must now lead by example by also staying active.”

Cdr Sauvé participates in the unit’s weekly PT sessions. His Coxswain, Chief Petty Officer First Class Paul Fenton goes running, and the unit’s Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Angus Fedoruk works out in the gym.

Cdr Sauvé has implemented a point system that allows individuals who attain a certain threshold of points to get a day of leave and to be entered in a raffle for healthy prizes.

Points are also earned by refraining from alcohol, tobacco and non-medical cannabis, or consuming sugary or high fat foods and drinks.

This initiative is in line with the strategic document Balance released on April 23. The 82-page guidebook provides local command teams with the tools to assist and encourage military members in becoming fitter, healthier and more operationally ready than before.

The document spells out targets for each of the four key areas: physical activity, performance nutrition, adequate sleep, and prevention of injury. It emphasizes the importance of leaders to “develop a policy framework that makes healthy choices easy for all personnel.”

“We want to change the perspective of people who previously had the impression that participating in PT was essentially not getting your work done, with those stuck behind their desks being rewarded instead,” said Cdr Sauvé. “The past few years we have seen a gradual change in focus, a clear commitment from the supervisors to be active themselves and encourage others to change.”

Balance falls in line with Canada’s Defence Policy that was announced in June 2017 and builds on the former Canadian Armed Forces Health and Fitness Strategy policy that was introduced in 2008.


Royal Canadian Navy on board with strategy

Commodore Angus Topshee, Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific ~

I was surprised and honoured to be appointed as the Royal Canadian Navy’s fitness champion. I have been passionate about fitness throughout my career and know firsthand that it can be hard to sustain a fit and healthy lifestyle through the demands of a navy career.

That’s why I’m so excited by the work that has been done across the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the navy to make it easier for everyone to find their “balance.”

The Canadian Armed Forces recently issued a new physical performance strategy called Balance. The strategy takes a comprehensive approach to operational wellness that is tailored to meet the unique needs and demands of life in the CAF. Balance outlines four key behaviours – physical activity, performance nutrition, sleep/rest, and injury prevention – and provides tools and information to CAF and RCN leaders “to assist their people in becoming fitter, healthier, and more operationally ready than ever before.”

Balance reflects the latest research in the field and is consistent with the terrific work done by the Maritime Forces Atlantic and Maritime Forces Pacific health and wellness teams.

While there are best practices, it is up to everyone to find the right balance to sustain their fitness. The RCN leadership is committed to helping you find and sustain that balance – at sea and alongside – through the constant changes and challenges of a naval career. We’ve made a lot of progress in this area but there is clearly still a lot of work to do.

Finding your balance

While the work the RCN has done to promote physical activity over the past several years – improving fitness equipment in ships, building fitness windows into flexes, embarking Personnel Support Program personnel, creating dedicated gym spaces aboard frigates, creating the Navy Bike Ride, and promoting active commuting on bases – has been significant, there is a lot still to be done.

I will advocate for dedicated gym spaces aboard all our platforms and strive to ensure a minimum, common level of equipment to permit our sailors to sustain their physical fitness routines as they move from ship to ship or from ship to shore. If you find a healthy fitness routine that works for you, we want you to be able to sustain it. 

Changes are coming in the RCN’s approach to nutrition – in essence, how we intend to adopt and apply the principles of Balance and the introduction of nutritional science in a new Healthy Eating Guide. The simple truth is that our approach to food aboard ships and in our messes is out of balance – our food is generally quite good and tasty, but we offer too much of it and our overall approach isn’t in accordance with the Canada Food Guide and other nutritional science. For that reason, we are going to make changes.

Balance also highlights the importance of sleep and rest. If you’ve sailed aboard our ships over the past couple of years, you will have experienced new watch rotations that are specifically designed to address this aspect of fitness. In particular, the 4A watch rotation allows most watch standers an unbroken period of sleep and includes dedicated windows for fitness and personal time for everyone. While it remains more challenging to find a healthy sleep/rest balance when we are sailing 1 in 2, we are working to develop a crewing model for the next generation of ships that permit a better balance.

Injury prevention is nothing new to the RCN – it is already incorporated into the safety briefs we give before every evolution and our annual general safety reviews. However, we can do better. We must systematically review CF98s and DND 663s to identify patterns of accidents and introduce changes to avoid them.

For example, we continue to suffer injuries when doors and hatches slam shut on fingers. We’ve undertaken a review to determine if we can install dampeners on the hatches and doors that are most commonly associated with injuries to prevent them slamming shut on fingers. While installing a robust and effective dampener may be expensive, the cost is clearly offset by the reduction in injuries that often result in trips ashore for medical care, or, in some cases, repatriation.

Injury prevention in fitness training encompasses proper nutrition, sleep and rest, and the actual design of a fitness training regime. PSP personnel are specifically trained in designing such programs and can work with you to plan your fitness program so that you can achieve your best while remaining injury free.  

Fitness and health are both a personal responsibility and an operational requirement. The RCN is committed to providing an environment that allows every person to find the balance that allows them to achieve and sustain a healthy lifestyle.

In accordance with best practices, we will be “nudging” our sailors to make better choices and we will be ensuring opportunities for maximizing our health are robust and plentiful. Ultimately, it’s up to you but we will help you get there.

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