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Your questions answered: The Healthy 10 – How to define a healthy firefighter

From cardiac care to supplements and yoga, Better Every Shift answers your questions from the live podcast event


Watch the on-demand event, “The Health 10 – How to define a healthy firefighter,” and get your wellness questions answered.

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What does a healthy and fit firefighter look like? So often we focus on physical appearance to define health, but health is a multifaceted, complex interaction among several factors.

On the recent live Better Every Shift podcast event, “The Healthy 10 – How to define a healthy firefighter,” hosts Firefighter Aaron Zamzow and FireRescue1 Editor-in-Chief Janelle Foskett spoke with Chief Marc Bashoor about the “Healthy 10,” a list of 10 ways firefighters can elevate their overall health and wellness. The group explored how to define a healthy firefighter, underscoring that looking healthy doesn’t automatically equate to being healthy.

[View the on-demand event here.]

Additionally, members of the FireRescue1 community posed several questions during the event, which we answer here:

There were two LODD notices issued by USFA today, both were firefighters that felt ill and died of cardiac reasons. What is the best strategy for best cardiac health?

Step 1 is to get annual medicals. Knowing your numbers is the best place to start.

Step 2 is to start applying the healthy 10 principles – consistent and functional workouts, eating more vegetables, hydrating and managing stress. Building health, and specifically cardiac health, is a process. Do something every day to improve your overall health, and your cardiac health will follow.

How do you get the 15/20/25-year career firefighter to get on board with this mindset? How do you change someone’s mentality and get them to exercise and buy into a healthy lifestyle?

I think Chief Bashoor really summed up the best way to change mindset is to get our members to think about their health as not only “theirs” but also those they work with. Do not let your health issue become my health issue or your fellow firefighters’ issue. Plus, we want our members to enjoy retirement. Fitness and the healthy 10 is not just about your current status, it is about your life status and retiring healthy.

Do naps makeup/give you the same quality of sleep when you have a busy overnight shift? Would going to bed earlier at work be more useful versus napping the day after?

For this question, we turned to Dr. Sara Jahnke, who has been researching fire service health topics for years. Here’s what she had to say:

There is not a definitive answer on this question as to whether one or the other is more beneficial. Data does suggest that short naps during the day – earlier in the afternoon – are likely one of the best approaches. It doesn’t replace getting sleep at night, though. Keeping sleep as regular as possible is the best approach, but that’s the recommendation for the general population, and we know that’s not always a possibility for some. As always, more research is needed.”

Check out Dr. Jahnke’s articles on sleep:

What type of electrolyte supplements are recommended?

I covered this topic in this Lexipol blog: “Fueling Up: What to Serve During Firefighter Rehab Operations.” Check it out!

How do you feel about doing yoga when you are unable to sleep?

Yoga, any time, is a great addition to any fitness program. Yoga can help with stress management, mobility, core conditioning and strength. I highly recommend finding ways to integrate yoga into your workout program. Here are some resources to get you started:

If fitness is such an important topic of conversation and we want to promote physical and mental health, then why do most departments not fund gym membership for employees (aside from the money aspect)?

Funding fitness is a difficult topic for administrations. One reason departments may not want to fund memberships is the perception that it conveys to the customer. Mr. and Mrs. Smith may not want to see their tax dollars going toward firefighters working out at a gym. A better solution would be to fund education and equipment for the stations so department members can work out on duty right on the premises. This could avoid the perception issue. Some municipalities have been successful by creating workout facilities that department members and other city employees can use. I truly believe that fitness and education should always be funded.

Are you saying we shouldn’t use HCN/CO meters to measure levels before removing masks?

According to the IAFF, without the use of a SCBA, firefighters are overexposed to irritants, chemical asphyxiants and carcinogens. There are over 200 known chemicals found in smoke on the fireground. Therefore, an SCBA is strongly recommended during fire overhaul.

Carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) readers are commonly used post-fire suppression to identify whether it is safe to remove your SCBA. Unfortunately, they do not identify any other contaminants found in smoke that have been scientifically linked to cancer. Therefore, we strongly recommend not using CO and HCN readings as an indicator that the air is safe. There is also no correlation between CO and HCN air levels and cancer-causing toxicants found at a fireground, so the CO and HCN levels can drop but cancer-causing toxicants can remain airborne. Stay on air from the beginning of fire attack through the end of overhaul.

How do you feel about pickleball as a station exercise?

Pickleball could be a fun way to get some activity and to build crew camaraderie. The challenge is to not let pickleball be a replacement for other fitness activities and types needed by firefighters – core conditioning, mobility, strength training and solid cardio conditioning. So, make it an addition to a solid fitness program, not a substitute. You also have to look at the injury potential of games like pickleball. Don’t get so competitive that you get hurt!

What is your opinion on the “Balance of Nature” vitamins?

I have not used them personally. Do your research and figure out how they would work for you and if their claims and ingredients are valid. Remember, though, that supplements in general are not a substitute for the other healthy 10. As I said on the podcast, if you’re using supplements but not also exercising and healthy healthily, you’re flushing that spendy supplement money down the drain.

For more about supplements, check out my blog “Do you need supplements to make fitness progress?”

View the on-demand podcast “The Healthy 10 – How to define a healthy firefighter.”

Aaron Zamzow is a fire lieutenant for the Madison (Wisconsin) Fire Department with 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer and host of the Better Every Shift podcast. 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 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 or Facebook or via email.