The pyramid of health for long-term results is for everyone; however, it is especially important for firefighters to maintain these pillars to excel at their inherently dangerous job. Our team at firefighter.com has broken down each pillar as it relates to the fire industry and provides tips for firefighters to create daily habits aligned with these pillars.
Pillar 1: Hydration & Sleep
The foundation of the pyramid of health is the most important pillar but the hardest to come by for firefighters- Sleep. With a 24 hour shift schedule, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. Circadian Rhythm is the body’s natural clock that tells you when to wake and when to sleep. Going from on shift, especially at a busy station, to off shift on a 24/48 hour schedule creates unrest and the lack of consistent schedule throws off the body for many days. To create an ideal circadian Rhythm, one must commit to a consistent schedule for going to sleep and waking up. This is essentially impossible in our line of service. So how can you create a better circadian rhythm with the schedule you are currently on? Our suggestion is to simply focus on rest whenever possible. Implement a Sleep ‘bedtime’ and wake time while off duty and try to stick to it while on duty as much as possible. Some shifts may have a lighter call load then others, which may allow you to honor your sleep schedule at least for the ‘bedtime’ portion. When on shift, take naps as much as possible to assist in your body recovery. Bring noise cancelling devices such as ear plugs to assist in minimizing distractions as you sleep.
The second aspect of the most important pillar is Hydration. This pillar may be easier to maintain than sleep for firefighters as hydration has always been an important area. According to the Mayo Clinic, men need 15.5 cups (3.7 liters or 1 gallon) of fluids per day. For woman, this is 11.5 cups (2.7 liters)*; however, this study does not take into account the shifts that may be more strenuous. In which case, your body may need more than the recommended fluids.
The benefits of adequate hydration are
- Assisting the movement of waste and removal of toxins
- Proper functioning of every cell, tissue & organ
- Helps regulate body temperature
- Protects sensitive tissues
More over, dehydration is known to drain your energy, not allowing you to preform required tasks to the best of your ability.
How can you improve your hydration? Well, simply put, drink more fluids. To track your fluid intake, you can purchase a Gallon Jug or Liter Jugs (refillable) and challenge yourself daily to finish a gallon of water. We call this the ‘Gallon Challenge’ and here at firefighter.com we encourage you to take on the challenge and tag us on Instagram @firefightercom.
Pillar 2: Lifestyle Habits
Lifestyle Habits pillar of health may be more simplified for non-firefighters; however, there are key elements that need to be considered when discussing lifestyle habits of firefighters. For firefighters lifestyle habits should include the normal: hobbies, exercise, nutrition, social circles and a positive family life, but firefighters also need to consider building positive habits specifically around stress management, mental health, and peer support within the fire house. We will be focusing on these 3 habits in this blog.
Stress Management. We cannot completely rid ourselves of stress. There will always be situations that arise at the fire station, at home or with friends, family or fellow firefighters that create stress. In addition to these common stressors, firefighters also experience the increase cortisol from the tones dropping to serious unforeseen turn of events on a call. Thus, techniques to help management stress, in the moment along with proactive habits developed to create a healthier non-reactive response to future stress is of utmost importance for firefighters long-term health. We highly recommend looking into mindfulness practices such as yoga, meditation, breathwork, and consistent exercise to best equip you to manage normal and duty stressors.
Mental Health and Peer Support are popular topics these days and for a very good reason. Suicides are higher among firefighters as compared to the general population. This may be because the “tough guy” mentality that has been cultivated over the decades, sleep and stress management issues, and also the lack of understanding amongst the general population (spouses, friends, ect.) of the experiences firefighters face throughout their career. Some prioritizations that can be made to improve mental health and prevent issues around mental health is to consider the resources, such as counseling services and peer support groups, that are available, have open discussions among the crew to create a safe environment for your firefighter brother or sister to lean on you if needed, opening up and speaking to your spouse for support or proactively choosing a spouse that is willing to listen to whatever needs to be discussed. Sometimes the call is too impactful to hold it within, and thankfully the culture around firefighter’s mental health has drastically shifted in the past 10 years to support firefighters positive habits around this topic.
Pillar 3: Nutrition
Nutrition and the Fire Station do not always go hand and hand. Crew meals although delicious tend to be high calorie, high fat and low nutrition. It’s time to shift that norm. A balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains are essential for firefighters to preform at the highest level, help management stress, improve sleep and promote consistent exercise. Let’s face it, no one is going to want to work out after a giant pasta and garlic bread meal. A big topic around nutrition and firefighters is caffeinated drinks. Coffee is always available at the fire station; however, an excess amount of caffeine negatively affects your body and creates an increased susceptibility to high cortisol levels when stress triggers are activated.
Pillar 4: Movement
Get off those recliners. Movement is a pillar of long-term health because it assists with other areas of the pyramid, mental health, stress management & sleep. Getting off the recliner and away from the TV, yes even during Football season, needs to be a priority while on and off duty for firefighters. Chores around the fire station can keep you moving. Off Duty, consider finding a hobby that is active such as pickle ball or biking. You’ll feel better, look better and have a more positive outlook on life when you choose to move.
Pillar 5: Exercise
Intentional exercise which include cardiovascular workouts, strength training and flexibility are essential for the long-term health of firefighters. Getting creative at the fire station with functional workouts mimicking movements that are required by firefighters are a great way to stay physically fit and prevent on-duty injuries. There are many resources available for fire station workouts, but firefighters should aim to be active and intentional exercise while on and off duty.
The 5 pillars of health for long-term results are a wonderful guideline for firefighters to shift their mindset and create habits that will assist them living a fulfilling, healthful and long life. We encourage you to dive into your current daily habits and find ways to shift them to better serve you while on and off duty.
This blog provides general information for discussions about health and related subjects. The information are not intended and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.