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How is your physical fitness? There are seven areas of consideration to help achieve and maintain your peak physical readiness. Physical fitness is a critical element for long term survival in the outdoors. Survival and preparedness experts agree that staying healthy and in shape will give you an edge in a survival situation. The physical fitness movement that began in the 1980s is an extension of the organic lifestyle movement of the 1960s. Thus, health, wellness, and being fit physically have characterized much of American culture over the last fifty years. The military is no stranger to maintaining good health. There are seven areas of concern when implementing your physical fitness program.

1. Nutrition

The first area to consider is nutrition. Proper eating habits are a key element to any physical fitness program. Many people like diet programs such as Weight Watchers®, The Atkins Diet®, or The Paleo Diet. However, for some people, the short-term gains from engaging in diet programs never seem to translate into long-term and permanent weight loss. Some studies suggest that those who lose weight will gain over 10% more than their original weight when they stop dieting. Therefore, eating properly over your lifespan is central to maintaining proper weight and nutrition.

Healthy eating means eating balanced meals and in the proper proportions every day. Remembering the five food groups for daily nutrition will help to achieve your nutrition goals. The five food groups are meat, vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy. Portion size also is an element of proper nutrition. Those who engage in vegan or vegetarian diets will substitute the meat and dairy for other items. Healthy eating will give you the vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that your body requires.

Additionally, as you consider proper nutrition and dieting, it is advisable to consult a professional, licensed nutritionist recommended by your personal or family doctor. Do not attempt a diet or nutrition regimen on your own solely based on articles or books that you read. Those sources speak to the general human condition, not your specific health concerns or needs. For example, many health experts discuss taking chondroitin glucosamine for joint health. I am not able to take it because it comes from shellfish. I have been forbidden by my doctor to eat seafood or products from seafood because of my iodine allergy. Therefore, consult your physician before engaging in a nutrition program.

2. Sleep

Sleep often is overlooked as a component of good health. However, most medical experts agree that getting an adequate amount of sleep every night is part of being a healthy person. An adult person needs around eight hours of sleep every night, according to the experts. A famous general once stated that any soldier who could not stay awake for three straight days was lazy.

By contrast, medical science and research relate that sleep deprivation reduces mental alertness, affects decision-making, aggravates the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Some of the survival programs on television demonstrate that after a period of low food intake and lack of sleep, many contestants begin to faint or make critical mental errors. Therefore, when appropriate, do not be afraid to sleep when your body is telling you to get some rest.

3. Activity

The more obvious part and easiest to understand about physical fitness is activity. Generally speaking, an active person is a healthy person. An active lifestyle is more than just going for a jog every day or a day-hike on the weekend. An active lifestyle is one in which your mind and body are continually exercised in a positive manner. Getting outdoors is just one way to accomplish that reality.

However, as it relates to survival tasks, your body needs a balanced training routine to achieve functional physical fitness. Functional physical fitness helps you accomplish the tasks necessary to enable survival in any environment, such as climbing or hand-to-hand self-defense. A balanced physical fitness training program involves three key areas: strength, endurance, and mobility.

4. Strength

Strength training is a vital part of a physical conditioning program. It usually involves weight training to increase strength, power, and endurance in the major muscle groups. Strength training is an anaerobic exercise. An example of anaerobic exercise is lifting weights, push-ups, sit-ups, or grip strengthening exercises. Anaerobic exercises are those characterized by the use of resistance to build muscle mass in the body.

Additionally, it is best to get your doctor’s recommendation or approval before participating in a strength training workout. It is also advisable to get a training partner if possible. Lifting weights can be fun but also dangerous. I have heard about several accidents over the years in which an overconfident individual got killed or maimed for life because of doing something irresponsible in the weight room and without a partner. Don’t be that person. Be safe, go slow, start light, and get help if you want to get the most out of a weight training program.

5. Endurance

The fifth area of consideration in building your functional physical fitness is endurance. Endurance training also is known as aerobic exercise. These kinds of activities involve the intake of oxygen through the respiratory system. Thus, aerobic training exercises the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Some examples of aerobic training are running, jogging, interval running, skipping rope, bicycling, rowing, aerobic dancing, or spinning.

Consequently, endurance training helps with both muscle endurance and respiratory efficiency. For example, ultramarathon runners have to have bodies that have muscle endurance and can effectively get oxygen to those muscles during their runs. Moreover, an efficient cardiovascular and respiratory system helps reduce the time needed for muscle recovery.

6. Flexibility

Flexibility training is the secret to success in your training program. Stretching out your body before working out addresses your body’s ability to bend and stretch. There is some debate in professional circles about the viability of stretching before or after a workout. Some believe it is needful and others discourage it. However, my personal experience is that stretching out before and after a period of exercise helps to prevent joint, muscle, and ligament damage. When I was in the military, stretching out before and after a workout in the weight room, road march, or a run enabled me to stay fit-to-fight when others were succumbing to injury.

7. Consistency

Consistency is the ultimate secret to success next to flexibility training in your physical fitness program. Your fit-to-survive program should center on consistency. Inconsistency in your training routine is a sure way to injury. An inconsistent workout tears the body down rather than builds it up. If you are going to start a physical fitness program, be dedicated to it enough to be consistent. An example of a consistent workout schedule would exercising or working out every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. There are many great workout schedules by reputable organizations on the internet. Therefore, you should be consistent with your training if you want to reduce the possibility of long-term problems like tendonitis, pulled muscles, torn rotator cuffs, or similar injuries.

Final Thoughts

Physical fitness is an individual matter between yourself and your doctor. As stated earlier, do not engage in a program without your doctor’s approval. My doctor has approved walking, hiking, and backpacking for my physical fitness program. Running, obstacle courses, climbing Mount Everest, or adventure sports are off the table due to my knees and back. I could do them should I have a mind to; however, is the risk worth the reward? Therefore, be safe and keep fit and enjoy yourself as you get in shape or maintain your level of physical fitness.

You can assess a survival situation in 3 easy steps. This assessment is based on the military understanding of estimating a situation. The definition of the phrase, estimate of the situation, is, “A process of reasoning by which a commander considers all the circumstances affecting the military situation and arrives at a decision as to a course of action to be taken to accomplish the mission.” (Joint Publication 3-0). Thus, a working definition of assessing a survival situation is a process of reasoning by which a person considers all the circumstances affecting survival and arrives at a decision and course of action that will enable survival through emergency or life-threatening conditions.

1. Analyze Your Current Circumstances

The critical step to gaining an accurate assessment of your situation is to analyze your current circumstances. This means that you need to get a proper evaluation of yourself, your environment, your resources, and your equipment. Your ability to accurately grasp these critical areas will set the conditions for the other steps of gaining situational awareness. So let’s look at these areas briefly.

Assessing Yourself

Health

The most critical subtask within this step is to analyze yourself. In an emergency survival situation, your age, health or level of physical fitness is vital to making it through the adversity. If you are injured and immobile, you will not go very far. You must assess, at that point, what is the level of injury or immobility? Then, you must determine if you have the means or capability to remedy the injury or the immobility. Thus, those who have an accurate understanding of themselves and their abilities will make decisions within those limitations.

Physical Fitness

As well, if your physical fitness is weak, you may find yourself reaching an obstacle of terrain that will stop your continued movement towards rescue. An excellent example of this kind of limitation is in the movie, The Grey. A survivor falls to their death while attempting to cross a ravine because they did not have the strength to hold on to a strap strung across the expanse. An ex-Army Ranger from Vietnam gave testimony that those who survived the jungle warfare of Vietnam were those who had the best physical fitness. He went on to say that those that were out of shape were the first to die in combat.

Abilities

Moreover, analyzing your health needs, experience, and skills also are critical factors in preparing for emergency situations. A simple adage in military leadership manuals is to know yourself and seek self-improvement. Employing this principle means assessing yourself at all times in light of survival or preparing for emergencies. It is as simple as asking what needs to be done, can I do it, and do I have the resources to do it?

Assess Your Environment and Its Resources

Next, assessing your environment is the second subtask. It is more than just determining what kind of environment you are in. It also has a good understanding of the types of dangers and resources within that environment. For example, if you are lost in a desert, do you understand the environmental threats and available natural resources? Accurately assessing your environment means fully answering the question, “where am I”? A suitable method for understanding your environment is the following checklist:

  • Type of environment?
  • Seasonal weather conditions?
  • Environmental threats?
  • Natural resources available?

 

Assess Your Available Resources

Third, assessing your available resources is the next subtask. This subtask is different than evaluating environmental resources. It is assessing the resources that you are carrying into the environment. In essence, it is evaluating what you have on your person or in your pack to address the essential areas of survival. Those critical areas being food, fire, water, shelter, first-aid, land navigation, communications, and security. You are assessing things such as how much water or food you have left in your backpack now that you are in an emergency situation.

Assess Your Equipment

A final subtask in this step is assessing your equipment. What equipment do you have and is it still functional? The functionality of your equipment determines how much you are going to have to rely on your survival skills and the natural resources of your environment. You must determine if your pack is ripped up or shoulder straps severed. You must evaluate the condition of your pack frame if it is external. Do you have adequate outerwear for the environment? Does your Garmin GPS or baseplate compass function? Is my fixed-blade knife dull or broken? Are the batteries dead in my headlamp? Did I forget to bring my multitool? These are the kinds of questions to answer when assessing your equipment. Therefore, after evaluating your current circumstances, it is time to make a tentative plan.

2. Make A Tentative Plan

It is essential to begin to make a tentative or rough plan after analyzing your circumstances. As the name implies, your survival plan is a rough idea based on the information you have from assessing your situation. The best way to plan is to do it as soon as possible in the survival situation. You are at your best health and fitness to make a plan at this point, if not injured or sick. Your mind is not yet clouded by hunger, lack of water, exhaustion, or exposure. Therefore, put down on paper a working idea of how you plan to effect self-recovery from your emergency situation.

Develop a Primary Plan

The first part of planning is to develop a primary plan. The primary an is the one that you are most likely going to conduct if everything goes well. The primary plan answers the five “W”s: who, what, where, when, why. It also covers “how” you are going to conduct your plan. Although you may not be able to answer every point, it is best to work through them anyway.

Develop an Alternate Plan

Developing an alternate survival plan is crucial. Soldiers call this your “When Everything Goes To Hell” plan. There are no guarantees in life. It is especially true in the outdoors. You cannot account for every possibility or circumstance. Therefore, having an alternate plan to complement the primary one is prudent. A good example of making an alternate survival plan is in the movie BAT-21, based on the book BAT-21 by William C. Anderson. Furthermore, your alternate plan also should answer the five “W”s as well as how you will conduct it.

Assess Your Plans

After making a primary and alternate plan, it is essential to assess the viability of your plans. It is helpful to do this step because you may find that you need to make adjustments. The information that you have and can glean from continually assessing your situation bears influence on your planning. For example, you plan to walk at night to avoid the heat of the summer days. However, you modify your plan because of the weather changes. Instead of walking at night, now, your movements will be during the day, at least temporarily. Thus, it is important to continually assess your plans and make adjustments as new information or circumstances arise.

3. Conduct Your Plan

Finally, the third step in estimating your situation is conducting your survival plan. An essential aspect of conducting your survival plan is to be flexible. Your plan is a guide not a lock-step answer to your emergency scenario. The longer that you are in the emergency survival situation, you will make more adjustments to your plan as you go. Observing the survival stories of others reveals that critical decisions have to be made at some point. For example, you may have to start a brush fire to attract the attention of search and rescue teams.

Some Final Thoughts

Situational awareness is an essential aspect of emergency survival in any environment. The three steps are easy to remember: analyze your circumstances, make a plan, conduct your plan. It is helpful to train your mind to think through the subtasks as a kind of checklist. People in an emergency survival situation are under a significant amount of mental and emotional stress, even if they do not panic. It becomes difficult to devote a lot of time to thinking analytically and solve problems in a survival situation. It is recommended that you begin to think through these steps as a practice as a matter of habit before your next outdoor adventure. The more these steps become second nature to you, the less you have to intentionally think through them step-by-step when in a high-stress emergency situation.

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