These 5 tips will help you, as a first responder improve your performance, reduce instances of injury, manage your health and fitness ultimately make you a more resilient and better firefighter, EMT and/or Medic.
Being a first responder offers challenges when it comes to keeping your fitness, health, and mind in check. The long hours, the stress of the job including exposures to traumatic scenes, and the sometimes unhealthy food options do not make it easy. I have hundreds of conversations each year with first responders that have gained 20-30 pounds, lack the energy and strength they used to have, and are mentally exhausted. The message is clear, especially if you look at the data of the common health issues all first responders face. Cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes are very common and, in some cases, occur more frequently in first responders than in the general population. Not to mention the rates of PTSD, mental health issues and suicides of first responders are increasing at an alarming rate.
There are, however, actions and options that you, as a first responder can take to ensure you have a healthy and prosperous career! Here are 5 of the best fitness and nutrition tips that every First Responder (firefighter, EMT, medic, police officer, and/or nurse) needs to follow. These tips will help you improve your performance, reduce your chances of injury, and help you enjoy a longer and healthier career.
1. Follow a consistent and effective EXERCISE program! A consistent and functional fitness plan will help you physically and mentally handle the stress of the job. Yes, you can lose weight and fat just by changing your eating habits. But, as first responders, we need to be ready for any situation, a well-planned fitness program is essential. Make sure you plan your workouts and focus on improving mobility along with strength and cardiovascular capacity. Does your current workout program do that? My goal with FRF is to help 100,000 firefighters, EMTs and medics improve their health and fitness. I am so dedicated to this mission that I created a FREE (yes FREE) 28-day Catalyst Workout Program. This is a complete program that will teach you the most functional and efficient way to improve your performance and health. You can click here to get this free program to learn how to functionally train as a first responder should. The program also includes access to the FRF app and some coaching. Yes, it is FREE!
2. Monitor your mouth! Understand what foods you are eating and what is in them. There are so many processed foods on the market (and in firehouses). Food companies are getting better and better at hiding these chemicals and additives. The first and golden rule of good nutrition is to understand what you are eating. That is why all diets seem to work (for a little while at least), they all force you to evaluate your food choices. I personally am not a fan of long-term diet plans. The best thing you can do for your nutrition is to stay informed about the food you are eating and read labels. Understand what healthy choices are and how to manage your nutrition through your career (see #3 below).
3. Consume whole foods and understand your portions. When you do read labels, try to select foods with a minimal amount of ingredients. Try to stick to one ingredient foods like potatoes, chicken, fish, vegetables, and fruit. A lot of these foods do not require labels because they only have one ingredient! And then, follow this system (see the pictures below) to determine serving sizes and portions.
4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate… with water! Water helps every metabolic process in the body and is critical to optimal performance. Progressive dehydration from exercise (or fireground operations) impairs performance, mental capacity, and perception of effort, and it can be life-threatening. With as little as a 2% shortage of body water, the ability to perform a high-intensity activity can be greatly impaired (Kleiner, 1999). Every first responder should aim to consume half of their body weight in ounces of water a day. So, if you weigh 180 pounds, you should aim for 90 ounces of water. See the chart below for a more detailed “hydration” plan. The second part of this tip includes limiting your consumption of sugary sodas, juices, energy drinks, and even diet sodas. The added sugars and chemicals can wreak havoc on your insulin sensitivity and make you crave sweets. Try to stick with straight water, I personally add some fruits with mine to give it some better flavor.
#5. Learn ways to positively manage your stress! Please note the emphasis on “positively.” You must find ways to deal with and handle the stress we see as first responders. Self-awareness plays an exceptionally large part. In many cases, I think we do not understand or take time to understand how stress affects our health and relationships. Find something that works for you and your family; take walks, do yoga, utilize counseling, workout, and/ or meditate. Personally, I do a little bit of all of these! I really have found great benefit in taking 10 minutes each shift to sit quietly and perform some yoga movements. It really helps keep me grounded and improves mobility. You can get a copy of my yoga routine (and follow the video) by clicking here.
Bonus Tip #6. As first responders, we do not get the luxury of having an off-season. Every day we report for our shifts, we must be physically and mentally ready for the day. You should, however, still plan for some rest days to give your body and mind a break or you will burn out. I suggest following the 90% rule. Make sure you work out consistently, eat healthily, mind your portions, hydrate, and manage stress 90% of the time. Then, give yourself some cheat meals and rest days the other 10% of the time. The 10% break will help you stay consistent.
I know that these tips will help you positively manage your weight, your health, and your career. Time to get "Fit for Duty.” Please comment, share, and like your thoughts.
Aaron "ZAM" Zamzow
PS- I am challenging 21,000 first responders to improve their health and fitness this year. Join the FRF 21K challenge and get some great prizes AND workout programs to help you lose weight, gain strength and improve performance. Click the link below.