Top 21 Reasons First Responders Need to Exercise (Numbers 1-10).

Exercise is the best weapon first responders have against the plethora of health issues facing the fire service.

Have you thought about starting an exercise program but haven’t done it yet? Or are you lacking the motivation to stay consistent with your workouts?  The goal of Fire Rescue Fitness is to help educate and motivate 100,000 first responders to improve their health and fitness.  One of the best ways to do this is to educate on the importance that exercise plays in your health.  So, I compiled a list of the top 21 reasons why firefighters, EMTs, and medics (and any other first responder) should (and needs to) work out regularly.  Here are the top 10 reasons!  

#1.  Because you can!  It is easy to see exercise as a chore. Consider this instead: Exercise is a blessing. Not only do you have the knowledge and the means to exercise, but you’ve also been given a body that is cable of exercising.  And, you work in a profession that requires a certain level of physical fitness.  Granted we all have some aches and pains but when you look at the big picture, a workout is a celebration for your body.  

#2. Reduces blood pressure.  High blood pressure can cause hardening and thickening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or other complications. Which by the way are the top reasons firefighters die in the line of duty.   The causes of hypertension include the increased plaque in the arteries that builds up from consuming a high-fat diet. Exercise helps reduce your blood pressure, in part, by attacking the plaque in your arteries. As the arteries widen, the blood flows through more freely, and your blood pressure eventually starts to drop. Hypertension also decreases as a result of exercise because your heart, which is a muscle, is getting a workout. The stronger your heart muscle gets, the greater its ability to pump blood through the arteries, which also helps to reduce your blood pressure.


#3. Builds aerobic power. Your aerobic capacity is your body’s ability to work at maximum capacity by getting oxygen to your body’s working muscles and tissues. Ordinarily, people lose about 1 percent a year of their aerobic power or, if you’d like to do the math, 10 percent per decade.  Both long-term and short-term exercise training studies show that you can cut this loss in half so that you’re losing 5 percent rather than 10 percent in that decade.  And, when using an SCBA, that 5% makes a huge difference in your performance.  It literally can mean an extra 3-5 minutes of air.  

#4.  Because it makes you happy.   There is a sense of accomplishment you feel after a workout. Study after study confirms the direct relationship between exercise and an increase in feel-good hormones—one study found high-intensity exercise has a similar impact on your brain to cocaine.  (That's gotta feel good.)  Other research suggests physical activity can help manage depression.  Even in the 1800s, Henry David Thoreau wrote about the positive effects of exercise.  He stated:  “An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”  I am a firm believer in this research.  Just ask anyone on my crew or in my home when I do not get my workouts done.  They would all agree I am not a happy person.  

#5. Lowers Type 2 diabetes risk.  There is an increase in the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in the general population and the fire service.   The complications of adult-onset Type 2 diabetes pose a serious risk to your physical well-being.  Exercise improves the body’s use of insulin, and the related weight loss improves insulin sensitivity.  This is something that people with type 2 diabetes, or at risk for type 2 diabetes, gain substantial benefits from.

#6. To lower blood pressure and cholesterol levelsHeart attacks and strokes are one of the leading causes of firefighter fatalities.  Research continually shows that regular exercise helps to keep blood pressure and cholesterol within a healthy range.  Here are two reasons why:   Weaker heart muscles pump little blood with lots of effort.  By exercising regularly, you strengthen your heart muscles and train them to pump more blood with less effort.  The stronger your heart is the less pressure will be exerted on your arteries.  Yes, I know I already listed this in #2 above.  This is such an important reason to exercise that I wanted to list it twice. Exercise helps to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels that can considerably reduce your chances of sudden cardiac arrest and stroke- the top reasons firefighters die in the line of duty.   

#7.  Boosts immunity.  Exercise causes changes in antibodies and white blood cells which are the body's immune system cells that fight disease. These antibodies or WBCs circulate more rapidly in more fit individuals, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before.   The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may also help prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection better, similar to what happens when you have a fever.   You can click here for a great review of this research.

#8. Reduces body fat and regulates weight.   Exercise burns calories which can lead to weight and body fat loss.  The more you exercise, the more calories you burn, and over a consistent period of time that can lead to body fat reduction.  And, exercising can also boost your metabolism.  Your nutrition plays a role in weight reduction also but as a rule of thumb, to lose weight and keep it off you need to move your body and watch what you eat.


#9. To Feel ...Better.  The first thing first responders, following FRF programs report, is how much better they feel.  In a lot of cases, people that do not exercise regularly do not even realize how bad they feel.   It is easy to get used to feeling sluggish, achy, and unmotivated. Exercise boosts your energy levels and makes you feel amazing. It can lower your risks of depression and improves your overall mood by causing your body’s endorphins to kick in. These are the natural “feel good” neurotransmitters that start to exert their effects after about 20 minutes of training. These regular exercise-related boosts eventually improve your overall mental health over the long term.  Exercise can provide a natural high.

Reason #10 To Alleviate Pain.  Regular exercise is a great way to alleviate chronic muscle and joint pain.  Exercise has been linked to decreasing inflammation throughout the body.  This can lead to pain reduction and better mobility.  Exercise can also be used to rehabilitate sore muscles and bones.  For example, persistent back pain can be lessened by strengthening your core, which will protect against further injury and allow more daily activity.   Here is a great routine that will help your body move and feel better, click here for the FRF recovery workout.

Please share with your crew and department and please comment if you agree (or don't).  Click here for the second post with numbers 11-21.

Stay safe, stay healthy and GET FRF,

Zam (Aaron Zamzow)

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