5 Healthy Habits for First Responders

In my previous video, we talked about setting fitness goals using the SMART goal-setting model—with a dose of passion and personal motivation (e.g., wedding, promotion) thrown in. But there’s another important part of the equation.

Our aspirations to get fit, get healthy and be our best selves often go awry in a couple of weeks. Our workouts get sparse, the cheat meals become more common, and we start to lose any progress made.

So what happened? When fitness goals are based on long-term ideas of how we want to look (“lose 10 pounds,” “go down a pants size,” “get abs”) without a focus on short-term habits, it becomes hard to stay on track. This is especially true if you are not seeing immediate results.

The key to accomplishing your fitness goal starts with a focus on establishing healthy habits first and results second. Regardless of what your overall goal is, here are five habits that should be on every first responder’s list.

  1. Drink more water! Your body uses water for every function of the body. Adequate hydration leads to better performance and cognitive function and can lower your chances for sudden cardiac arrest and stroke. As with everything else, the amount of water the body needs for optimal health varies from person to person because of factors like lifestyle, activity level, and climate. A good rule of thumb is to aim for half of your body weight in ounces a day. And you don’t have to be that guy or gal who always carries a gallon jug around—find a mug or water bottle you prefer and always have it with you. This will help you gauge your intake and remind you of the goal. Start your goal with 60 ounces and work your way up from there.
  2. Perform at least three workouts each week, for a minimum of 40 minutes each. That works out (no pun intended) to 120 minutes a week. As a first responder, this is the minimum you should dedicate to staying fit physically and mentally. This sounds obvious but a lot of times we set a goal to lose weight and go gangbusters from the start, only to fad out … quickly. Improving your health is a long-term investment and journey. If you have not been consistent with workouts, set the goal to work out 12 times this next month and build on that. Consistency is the key to improving your health.
  3. Eat four servings of vegetables a day. Your mother was right. Veggies are not only nutritious, they also offer protection against various diseases, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even certain types of cancers. Vegetables are rich in many important nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. Eat a variety of veggies to benefit from a range of nutrients. Vegetables and fruits should make up the base of everyone’s nutritional pyramid. Aim to consume some sort of vegetable or fruit every time you eat.
  4. Add a mobility routine to your workouts and shifts. Mobility is the ability of the joints to move freely through their intended range of motion. This is different from flexibility, which can be defined as the ability of the muscles to stretch. You can be flexible but not mobile enough and vice versa. As a first responder you need to be mobile—the better you move, the better you perform. To improve your mobility (and performance), add just one or two active movements to help you warm up before your workout or shift. Consistently integrating active mobility movements can dramatically improve how you move and feel (on and off) the emergency scene
  5. Take three minutes each day to improve your mental health and mood. The pandemic, the stress of our jobs, family, relationships and lack of sleep take a toll on our physical and mental health. Taking just three minutes out of your day to take some deep breaths, meditate, sit quietly or simply be grateful can reduce anxiety and stress. A daily short reset can lead to a better mood, more energy to do your workout and more compassion on the job. It might sound phony, but I challenge you to try. If you don’t believe me, try it on your kids. When they are in a “fussy” mood, ask them for one thing that makes them happy. This changes their focus from negative to positive. It works with first responders too!

Losing weight, gaining strength, and improving your health can be achieved with some fine-tuning of your goals and vision. Set your sights on creating the healthy habits needed to accomplish your fitness goals. You will be well on your way to making lasting fitness progress. You can do this!

Questions? Contact me at zamzowfitness@gmail.com or visit Fire Rescue Fitness.

Aaron Zamzow

AARON ZAMZOW is a firefighter/training officer for Madison Fire Department with 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in health and wellness as well as a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification. He is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, an NASM-certified personal trainer and an ACE-certified peer fitness trainer. Zamzow is the founder and owner of FireRescueFitness.com and develops programs aimed at getting fire rescue athletes fit for duty. He authored the book "Ladder 2 Workout: A Comprehensive Firefighter Workout Program that will get you 'Fit for Duty' in 28-days." Connect with Zamzow on Twitter at @GetFRFit, on Facebook at Fire Rescue Fitness or at zamzowfitness@gmail.com.

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