Exercise, Mobility, Nutrition, Psychological Health

First Responder Longevity – A Public Safety Worker’s Guide to Staying Fit

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So you want to be a cop huh? Thought you’d be chasing down bad guys and hopping over fences all day. Nope. Turns out that 99% of your day is spent driving, standing still, and report writing at a desk.

How about you firefighters?  Thought you’d be rushing into burning buildings every day, carrying someone to safety just as the structure explodes?  Nope.  Turns out that your day consists mainly of standing around a drunk asshole while you wait for the EMT to arrive so they can cart him off in an ambulance.

Many who go into public safety professions think they will be very active during the course of their shift.  For the most part, this is a fallacy.  Most days are spent sedentary, like the majority of Americans.

In fact, if you include the stress related to a public safety officials job, they are more likely to be unhealthy than your average worker.  According to research, police officers and firefighters suffer 10% more from heart disease, depression, mood disorders, and work related injuries than your average American employee.

This comes as no surprise.  With the stress, pressure, and long hours required to be in these fields, it’s no wonder our public safety officers are struggling with their health.

I come from a law enforcement background, serving over 10 years between two different agencies in the California Bay Area.  Throughout my career I was a School Resource Officer, Motorcycle Officer, and a member of the SWAT team.  I also spent 3 years working graveyard shift on patrol.

I’ve experienced these health issues first hand.  Every doctor visit, I had high blood pressure.  Thankfully, it was on the lower end of the “high” spectrum and I never had to take medication for it.  My doctor always said it was normal for my blood pressure to be a little higher because of my job.  A month after I retired from the force, my blood pressure was back down to normal.  I was shocked!  But I shouldn’t have been.

I managed to stay in pretty good shape throughout my 10 year career and I’d like to share with you some of my secrets to success.  These tips also apply to anyone who is in a high stress, shift work type of environment.  Firefighters, cops, EMT’s, doctors, nurses, and security officers.

Eat clean

I always carried around a large lunch cooler throughout my shift and put it in the front passenger seat.  Even on busy days and nights, I could always grab something out of the cooler while I was driving from call to call.  It’s cheap, healthy, and convenient.

Resist the urge to grab that 7/11 coffee and hot dog.  Stay strong, don’t go through that Jack in the Box drive through!  It’s garbage food and you know it!

If you need guidance on how to meal prep, where to start, and what to cook, I got you!  Read this!

Stay Flexible

Most public safety officials are carrying around a shit ton of gear and equipment to keep them, and the public safe.  This requires strength and stamina, but it also throws your entire body out of whack.

For example, cops carry their firearm on their hip.  That gun weights at least 2.5 pounds fully loaded, not to mention the extra 40 rounds of ammunition their carrying on their belt.  Over the course of a 10 hour shift, that weight adds up.  This throws your hips way out of alignment.

Not to mention leaning forward while talking to people, “indexing” your firearm, or leaning your ear towards your radio.  These all create imbalances throughout your career.

Good thing is, you can fix them!  Staying flexible takes some work, but you can do this by mobilizing throughout your shift.  Stretch your shoulders, calves, and legs any time you get out of the car.  This goes for any other shift worker, stay flexible!

Read this guide for tips on how to stay flexible throughout your day.

Exercise

The benefits of exercise on depression, heart health, and low back health are well documented.  Find a routine and stick with it!  Whether it’s weight lifting, yoga, running, martial arts, it doesn’t matter!

Just get out and move.  Prioritize it, make it a part of your day and routine.  My recommendation is mix it up with weight training, distance exercise, and stretching.  If you need help with this please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Sleep

One of my training officers once told me that working graveyards took years off of his life.  No shit!  Working all night wreaks havoc on our bodies!

We are not meant to be up all night.  Here are some of my suggestions on how to get quality sleep when working nights.

  • Don’t drink coffee less than 5 hours before getting off of work.  This throws your natural circadian rhythm out of whack and you’ll have a tough time getting to sleep.
  • Get black out shades and an air conditioner so you can have a cool, dark place to sleep.
  • Don’t drink alcohol before going to bed, this will also throw off your natural REM sleep and you won’t get as restful of sleep.
  • Prioritize sleep!  Just like you prioritize brushing your teeth, flossing, and wiping your ass, make it something that you HAVE to do!

Being a public safety officer is difficult enough as it is.  It’s even more difficult if you’re unhealthy in your uniform.  The people you serve need you, and more importantly, your life is on the line!

Stay healthy!  If you have any questions please reach out to me, I would love to discuss ways you can stay fit!  Until then, stay safe!

Photo courtesy of fitnesszone.com

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