Editor's Note: The National Volunteer Fire Council's National Firefighter Health Week runs August 16-20. It's an annual week-long initiative held each August to educate the fire and emergency services community and the public about a variety of health and wellness issues that affect first responders. Wednesday's topic of focus is heart health. In addition to the NVFC's tip below, be sure to check out FR1 columnist Bryan Fass' take in What should I eat during a shift? as well as the NVFC's special Health Week page.
Heart attacks are the number one cause of on-duty firefighter deaths. Heart disease affects 80 million Americans, and the emergency services are not immune. In fact, the stress put on the heart and body by emergency response activities creates an increased risk of heart attack. Protecting your heart through regular health screenings, proper nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle choices is key to lowering your risk of becoming a statistic.
What You Can Do Today
Schedule an appointment with your doctor to get screened for heart disease risk factors including blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels.
Have a meeting with your department to educate everyone on what to do if you think you or someone else is suffering from a heart attack. Knowing what to look for and how to react can decrease the risk of serious disabilities or death. Use the NHLBI Heart Attack Survival Plan as a resource.
Ask a local health professional or hospital to donate their time and resources to conduct free heart-health screenings for your department members, including cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose level checks. Remind the health professional that they are helping protect their community by protecting their first responders.
Encourage department members to schedule regular annual physicals, if your department does not already require them. They should speak with their doctors about family history, any concerns they have, and what steps they can take to lower their risk of heart disease.
Ask a heart attack or stroke survivor from your community to come in to speak to the department members about the importance of heart-health.
Involve the whole family so that a healthy lifestyle goes beyond the station. Teach your children about the importance of starting a healthy lifestyle early in life, and set an example for your children or family. Use today to initiate the talk, prepare a healthy family meal together, or participate in a family sporting activity.
Incorporating small changes into every day can lead to big results. Take the stairs instead of the elevator; park in the spot at the back of the lot at the grocery store; replace fries with a salad; drink water at one meal instead of soda; take 5 minutes a day to think about things that you are grateful for; let someone in front of you in traffic. All of these easy activities help create a well-rounded lifestyle that will help keep you mentally and physically healthy. Find more ideas at www.smallstep.gov.
Increase your physical activity as well as that of your department by organizing a department sports team (such as softball) or a regular department physical activity (such as a running club).
Visit the NVFC's Health Week page on heart health for a list of full resources and links to assist you and your department
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