Using exercise as medicine: Dr. Alex Swift
By Ryan Melanson,
Maintaining both physical and mental health is an important part of a successful CAF career, and for those who struggle on that front, even a small amount of extra exercise can have a large impact.
Dr. Alex Swift, a physician with CF Health Services (Atlantic), knows this well. He always tries to make time for a walk around Stadacona during his busy work day, and he recommends the same for anyone who can get the chance.
“I do try to go out every day, just for 15 or 20 minutes, to get some fresh air and stretch my legs. For me, it’s as much mental as it is physical. It can give you a break from the stress of the day, and that’s important for anyone,” he said, adding that longer walks in the evening, trips to the gym, and activities with his kids round out his fitness regimen.
While regular exercise can help make a difference for everyone, particularly when it comes time for annual FORCE Evaluations, physical activity becomes even more crucial for military members who are on the mend from an injury or illness.
“The people I’ve seen have the most meaningful recoveries from injuries or illnesses are the people who’ve incorporated exercise as a big part of their rehabilitation,” Dr. Swift said, noting that difficult rehab or nagging injuries can also become long-term problems and begin to impact mental health.
“The people who really struggle are the people who tend to have sedentary lifestyles.”
When patients struggle with staying active and motivated, he seeks small improvements, and said the word ‘activity’ can be preferable to ‘exercise’, which can sound intimidating. Recommendations might include a brisk walk, rather than jumping into a cardio class or weight training.
“I’m not looking for my patients to run a marathon, but I do want them to at least get out there for a walk.”
Exercise can foster other good behaviours – active lifestyles go hand in hand with healthy diets, leading to better overall health. The number of resources available to help CAF members maintain their health, from physicians themselves, to dieticians, PSP fitness or reconditioning staff, and mental health services, also provide a leg up. The opportunity to use these services during the work day is unique to the military setting and should be taken advantage of, Dr. Swift said.
“The resources are great, so I do my best to make referrals and encourage people to use them.”
The PSP Reconditioning program is a fitness program designed to meet the demands of serving CAF members that are dealing with injury and illness. For more information, speak to your doctor or contact PSP Reconditioning Manager Kerianne Willigar at 902-402-4890 or Kerianne.Willigar@forces.gc.ca.