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Balancing married life with 12-hour shifts as a paramedic is no easy task, but Jennifer Rocha, 26, maintains a calm and steady presence under pressure. Despite irregular work hours, the 5-foot-10, 155-pound Rocha fits in exercise by using an elliptical machine and free weights in her Lincolnton, North Carolina, home. And her commitment to portion control and natural foods does more than help Rocha maintain a trim frame; her fitness keeps her effective at a physical job that requires lifting heavy patients onto gurneys and lugging 40-pound equipment bags.
Staying healthy and strong may help Rocha do her job, but she sees her job as a way to stay healthy: "The people that I pick up on the ambulance have problems because of their lifestyle, so in that sense, it's easy to stay motivated," Rocha says. "I see very sick people who have high blood pressure, heart problems, high cholesterol. I don't want to be like that when I'm 50."
Coping with stress: "The [ambulance] service I work for runs 35,000 calls a year, so we're very busy. I deal with a lot of really sick medical patients who have two or three things wrong with them. They're short of breath, they have chest pains -- it's all happening at once, so you're thinking, oh gosh, what do I treat? It gets pretty stressful. But I talk to my husband, who's a really good listener, and I talk to my friends who understand what I'm going through. That helps me manage the stress."
Tube time: "I have my elliptical trainer where I can watch TV, so it keeps me focused on not being so tired. I figure if I just put it in the living room, then I don't have an excuse. If I'm going to sit there and watch TV, I might as well exercise while I watch TV."
Snack strategies: "I always bring an apple, some carrots, and a little salad to work. I'll usually bring an extra bottle of water and an apple in the ambulance. If we don't make it back to the station, we might go to a fast food place, and I'll get a salad. Although, once in a while I'll get a small cheeseburger or a small order of French fries. I'm not perfect."
Don't sweat the sweet stuff: "I struggle with my sweet tooth because my husband has one, too. His favorite thing is cheesecake, so I make homemade cheesecake with my Kitchen-Aid mixer. I don't make it very often, but when I do, I'll just have a little bit. It's very rich so you don't need a big piece."
Energy Rx: "I get really tired sometimes because I'm anemic. But I just work through that. I take a multivitamin every day."
Dog days: "There's a great walking trail in the town that my husband and I live in, and we'll go walking down the trail. It's about 2 miles. We go in the evenings after dinner, sometimes with our two little beagles."
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, June 2007.