First There First Care Exhibitor information page FTFC logo with Fire Chief logo

June 10-14 2024 SAVE THE DATE!

June 12 – 16, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Hollywood, FL 33314

What injuries can ruin, Exercise can prevent..

In our previous installment we discussed the effects physical and emotional stress can have on someone’s EMS career. More often than we care to discuss, promising careers are sadly cut short due to injury.

There is little debate that regular exercise prepares you for the demands presented by EMS work and significantly reduces the risk of both physical and emotional injury.

There is also little argument that “getting in a workout” during a typical EMS shift is almost an impossibility.

The sad reality is these physical and emotional demands are substantial. As a result, maintaining physical fitness is not just beneficial but essential. And a cursory look at the average EMS provider reveals the majority of us could greatly benefit from some form of regular, physical activity.

Regular exercise can boost physical strength, enhance cognitive abilities, and improve psychological well-being, enabling us to perform our duties more effectively and safely.

But how?

It’s easy to sit at a desk and write about getting more exercise, but how do you put it into practice? Setting aside 30 minutes for a workout in a gym or sitting down to a healthy, relaxed meal is simply unheard of while on shift. 

Our exercise routine often consists of jumping in and out of the truck, climbing flights of stairs with heavy equipment, or moving sedentary patients down an eight-story walkup in a collapsible carry device.

Meals frequently consist of a slice of pizza from the box on the center console of the truck and two cups of coffee at 4:00 AM to try to keep going. (Put down the energy drink!)

A little planning can have a huge impact

The reality is that a regular exercise program can not only help reduce your risk of injury but can help you deal with the stress and rigors of daily life in EMS.

Developing a physical fitness regimen does not have to be complicated or involved.  Most fitness trainers will agree, if you have not pumped iron in a while, don’t try to win a gold medal in weight lifting. Failure is guaranteed!

Crawl, walk, run

Even the simplest exercise can help get you started. A brisk walk around the station for a few minutes, working with light weights at the kitchen chair, or some light crunches on a yoga mat can all be a great start to a healthier you.

These simple efforts or others like them can also help improve Cognitive Function. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, which can enhance cognitive abilities. This is vital for EMS professionals who must make quick decisions in high-pressure situations.

Support exercise with a healthy diet

I think most of us agree, fast food and convenience store snacks are better seen as a treat, not a diet plan. If you’re at a busy station consider bringing meals.  It’s easier to prepare simple, healthy meals at home than trying to grab something “on the run.” It may require you to reprogram your brain from habits developed over the years. Healthier, planned meals, following a solid dietary regimen, will not only provide good nutrition, but will give you more energy and better endurance. You may find you don’t need that energy drink!

Better Sleep

We won’t event discuss sleep while on shift. However, on days off a regular workout routine can contribute to improved sleep quality. A good night’s sleep can significantly improve job performance and overall well-being. Build your workout and sleep routines into your days off to help offset those hectic shift days.

Recommended Exercises for EMS Professionals

Before starting any new exercise routine, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional or fitness trainer, particularly if you have any pre-existing conditions or haven’t done anything in a while, or at all. An effective fitness routine needs to take into account your current fitness level, medical history, and fitness goals.

There is no, “one-size-fits-all” exercise regimen for EMS professionals, but a combination of cardio, strength, and flexibility exercises can deliver a holistic fitness package.

A well-rounded exercise routine for an EMS professional might look like this:

  • Monday – Cardiovascular training: This type of exercise improves heart health and increases endurance. Activities could include jogging, cycling, swimming, or even taking brisk walks. Working up to High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be a future goal.
  • Tuesday – Strength training: Lifting weights, resistance band exercises, or bodyweight exercises (like push-ups and squats) can build muscle strength, necessary for lifting patients or heavy equipment and are easy to squeeze in between other on-shift activities.
  • Wednesday – Rest Day or light activities: Yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi enhance flexibility and balance, reducing the risk of falls. These activities are considered low-impact and are great starting points to begin an exercise regimen.
  • Shift day – Functional fitness training: This usually involves performing repetitive activities you do during a work day. Climbing stairs while carrying weights, properly bending and lifting weights off the floor, carrying heavy objects over short distances can all help improve your physical abilities.
  • Friday – Exercise favorites: Eventually you will discover certain exercise activities you really enjoy. Perform those often.
  • Saturday – Flexibility and balance: (e.g., a yoga or Pilates class)
  • Sunday – Celebrate your successes. You’ve earned it.

This schedule is just an example, and it’s essential to tailor your routine to your needs and preferences. Fitness experts argue over what is considered an appropriate length of time for a workout. Much like debates about proper diet, opinions vary. Remember, consistency is key. You will see better results with regular, moderate exercise than trying intense, sporadic workouts. Also, listen to your body. While you should attempt to increase your efforts with each workout, know your limits and give yourself time to rest and recover.

Regular exercise is a lifeline for EMS professionals. It enables you to fulfill your roles more efficiently, cope with stress, and improve your overall quality of life. Take care of your physical and emotional health, so you are better prepared to take care of others.