By John Hofman, CSCS*D, TSAC-F*D, MS
Have you ever noticed that much of the information out there about firefighter fitness is mostly for those on the frontline? I myself have written numerous articles on the importance of firefighter health & wellness, but in my writings something became quite clear. There is a deficit of information about the health and wellness of those working in the office (they are still a part of our team).
It’s funny because at one point in time a chief was actually a firefighter and their bodies were exposed to the same stressors that current firefighters go through (sleep disruptions, poor nutritional habits, and traumatic stressors). So why do they stop exercising once they go into the office?
I can only speak from experience within the organizations I have helped, but once a chief goes into an administration role their health and wellness has the potential to spiral out of control. Initially their intentions are good and they want to exercise, eat right, and take better care of their health but quickly they find themselves even more overworked and stressed which has the potential to lead to life altering long term conditions.
For many, finding the time to exercise and eat right is an uphill battle that leads to poor nutritional habits and decreased physical activity. This will lead to a larger waistline and possibly obesity or other health concerns. In fact, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council and U.S. Fire Administration, the rate of firefighter obesity outpaces the national average with about 73 to 88 percent of cases in the fire service. What becomes alarming are those firefighters meeting the definition of class II and III obesity had nearly five times the number of missed work days due to injury when compared to firefighters with class I obesity or those who were overweight. So it is safe to say obesity (class II or III) is a problem and it can lead to other health conditions such as metabolic syndrome. It has been well documented that those diagnosed with a metabolic syndrome have an increased chance of cardiovascular disease, stroke, or cancer. But let’s look at it from another angle and take what we do know. For many of us, who work behind a desk all day, it means we are sitting for long periods of time. Based on research, prolonged sitting has been shown to disrupt metabolic function resulting in increased plasma triglyceride levels, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and decreased insulin sensitivity (aka metabolic syndrome).
Not only does prolonged sitting affect our metabolic function but it also affects us structurally. The main reason is that sitting is a static posture that increases stress in the back, neck, shoulders, arms and legs, and in particular, can add large amounts of pressure to the back muscles and spinal discs. When sitting in an office chair for a long period, the natural tendency for most people is to slouch over or slouch down in the chair, and this posture can overstretch the spinal ligaments and strain the discs and surrounding structures in the spine. Over time, incorrect sitting posture can damage spinal structures and contribute to or worsen back and neck pain.
Finally it is important to realize that most of those who enter into an administration position are generally older or rather later into their career. What does that mean?
- Decreased aerobic capacity (it declines rapidly after the age of 45)
- Decreased flexibility
- Decreased hormonal levels (a reduction of testosterone in males)
- Decreased muscular strength and endurance
Do you see where I am going with it? Just because you work in the office does not mean you should stop exercising. In fact you should do it more now than ever because you want to combat all the years you served on the job. If that doesn’t convince you, do it for the emotional side where exercise can be a stress reducer. It’s never too late to start, so make time for yourself.
Get Moving with Regular Exercise
- Research has shown that you should include both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training into your program. Focus on stretching your hip flexors and strengthening your glutes to combat sitting for prolonged times. Perform Giant Sets or Intervals into your routine to help save time. (See attach 6 week program)
Learn How To Prevent Injuries
- Utilize the foam roller to help untie any knots
- Stretch your lat and pectoral muscles to help with shoulder pain.
- Stretch your hip flexor and piriformis to help with your low back
- Get more mobility into your hips and thoracic spine
Get Your Nutrition in Check
- Eat more protein at breakfast. This will help you fight off the glycemic crash that occurs around 10am.
- Example: Fruit Smoothie – One scoop of protein powder, chia seeds, fresh fruit, one cup of almond milk, & spinach.
- 20/10 Rule: Every meal should have 20g of protein. Every snack should have at least 10g.
- 3/2 Rule: Three snacks and two meals is more realistic to a normal diet.
- Drink a glass of low-fat chocolate milk after your workout – don’t wait longer than 30 minutes…this is also a snack!
- If you are serious about losing weight you should be tracking your calories! There are plenty of phone apps available to help you do this (fat secret calorie counter, or weight watchers).
- Get better quality sleep. Stay away from Ambien and other sleeping aids if you can. If you are having trouble use melatonin or ZMA before you sleep. Always consult your family doctor if you are starting or stopping a medication.
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