By John Hofman
Have you ever noticed that much of the information out there in regards to firefighter fitness is for those on the line? I have written numerous articles on the importance of firefighter health and wellness, but something became quite clear to me the other day: there is not much information towards those working in the office, and they are a part of the team, too.
At one point in time, a chief was actually a firefighter, and his body was exposed to the same stressors that current firefighters go through: sleep disruptions, poor nutritional habits, and traumatic stressors. So why do these officers stop exercising once they get into the office? I can only speak from experience with the organizations I have helped, but once chief officers get into that administrative role, things spiral out of control. Initially, their intensions are good and they want to exercise, eat right, and take better care of their health. They quickly they find themselves even more overworked and overstressed, which in the long term could be life-threatening.
For many, finding the time to exercise and eat right becomes a challenge. This leads to poor nutritional habits and less physical activity. This in turn leads 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 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 because of 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 can lead to other health conditions, such as metabolic syndrome. It has been well documented that those diagnosed with 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 means we are sitting for a long 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, it also affects us structurally. Sitting is a static posture that increases stress in the back, neck, shoulders, arms and legs. In particular, prolonged sitting 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 administrative position are generally older or later into their career. What does that mean? Easy, they get older just like everyone else, and the side effects associated with age are the following:
- Decreased aerobic capacity (it declines more 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 what all the years you served on the job has done to you mentally and physically. If that does not convince you, at least do it for the emotional side: exercise can be a stress reducer. It's never too late to start, so make time for yourself.
Get Moving: 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.
John Hofman is the strength and conditioning coach for the Sacramento (CA) Fire Department, He oversees the Wellness Center; coordinates the department's medical and fitness assessments; develops recruit fitness training, pre-employment medical and fitness evaluations; and assists the department's 20 certified Peer Fitness Trainers. In addition, he is the strength and conditioning coach for the California Regional Fire Academy, Sierra Fire Technology Program, Rocklin Fire Department, and South Placer Fire District. He also consults with the Fire Agency Self-Insurance System of California. Visit John's Web site at www.firefighterfitnessonline.com.
In an effort to help keep firefighters safe Strength & Conditioning Coach John Hofman authored Beyond the Turnouts: A Comprehensive Guide to Firefighter Health & Wellness -- where he combined the latest research and his years of experience developing firefighter health and wellness programs within the fire service. CLICK HERE for more info about the book.