By Dr. Paul Anderson, occupational and lifestyle medicine, HealthPartners
It’s no secret that being a firefighter takes a toll on your body and your mind.
Physically, firefighters perform intense work from the time they leave the station until they put away their gear at the end of a shift. All that intensity seems manageable when you are young, but as you age, managing the physical work can be increasingly stressful and create injuries. Mentally, firefighters witness traumatic events and perform tasks that would be very emotionally difficult for anyone to process. Over time, the mental effects of witnessing trauma, death, poverty, domestic strife, and chronic illness can leave a firefighter dealing with depression, anxiety, and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The typical firefighter career story starts out with health, strength and mental resilience but ends with a list of health and emotional problems waiting for the firefighter at retirement.
But the typical story is changing for the better, and the old story doesn’t have to be your story. Even basic attention to healthy habits like diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management can slow or even reverse the health effects of working as a firefighter. Over the course of your career, attention to your body and mind can bring you to retirement with your health intact and the emotional energy to enjoy your next chapter.
So, where to begin? The American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) identifies 6 pillars of a healthy lifestyle:
- Healthful eating of whole, plant-based food
- Increase physical activity
- Develop strategies to manage stress
- Avoid risky substances
- Improve your sleep
- Form & maintain relationships
Each of these pillars is important by itself and each one of them has profound effects on the other health areas as well. If you are tired of your old health journey and you are interested in finding a new direction for your health journey as a firefighter, take a moment to look over this diagram from ACLM and read a little about the different pillars of a healthy lifestyle. It’s never too late to start building healthier habits for your mind and body. This spring, we’ll take a deep dive on each of these six ares on the MnFIRE blog to help you improve your health.