3 simple habits for EMTs to stay fit and have fun

Retirement is great; retirement with pain and disability is not — here's how to stay healthier and happier

Updated May 15, 2017

I had a discussion with a veteran responder who has had back pain for the past six years. He has had injections and almost constant pain, but due to the EMS system, his only option was to keep running calls.

I brought up personal wellness and self-care; the answer I got was the usual and I saw it coming a mile away.

Use an activity tracker to motivate regular movement throughout the work day
Use an activity tracker to motivate regular movement throughout the work day (Image Greg Friese)

"I don’t have time and exercise is boring, plus our department has no budget for exercise equipment."


Sound familiar?

As a society we make exercise, nutrition and overall personal wellness far too complicated. Just look at all the gimmicks, fads, pills and quick-fix options out there; look at all the constantly failed diets and lost goals. It’s no wonder why we struggle with our health.

Habit 1: Be consistent

Consistency is the key to everything. The first step is admitting that we are human and not perfect when it comes to exercise and nutrition.

It’s OK to fall off the wagon for a meal or skip a workout. It’s not OK to make consistently bad food choices for weeks on end, essentially reversing all of your personal gains. The same holds true for your fitness; skipping a workout is OK on occasion but doing nothing for weeks can literally be a killer.

Responders, we as a profession must embrace the fact that job-specific fitness is part of our job. It’s a requirement not, an option.

There are countless studies that clearly show fit responders get hurt less, are happier and have better overall physical and emotional wellness. Instead of making excuses why you can’t workout, make excuses why you have to. 

One of our EMS1 fitness videos offers a great demonstration on how to do simple workouts on the back of your truck. I even wrote a book on helping you navigate your path to health and wellness.

Move mountains and make exercise happen, not the other way around. Heck, it does not even need to be a vigorous workout, just move.

Habit 2: Play

Our kids have it right; just have fun. Exercise does not have to mean sitting on a machine or walking on a treadmill. It’s no wonder so many responders are not consistent with exercise; we make it too boring.

Reaction balls are an awesome tool for improving fitness, agility, balance — and it’s fun. Grab one at your local sporting goods store or even the pet store.

Play wall ball, bounce it in a circle, or do crazy throws. The ball will never bounce the same way, or for that matter the right way, and you have to react. Plus, it helps to pass the time between calls.

A Frisbee is also a great fitness tool. It's cheap, small, can be used virtually anywhere, the short bursts of anaerobic exercise use the energy system that is specific to our job. Don’t just aim for your partner; make her run for it. 

Habit 3: Invest in yourself

As a profession and as a society we are very reactive to health and wellness. We wait for the incident to occur and then take drastic steps to heal and get healthy.

Health and wellness is a proactive game, not a reactive one. Just as you should be investing in your retirement, you must invest in your wellness. 

No one wants an injury, but we see an alarming and sadly consistent trend in public safety. Responders gets hurt, they have to stop working, and get workers compensation. This pays around 40 to 60 percent of your income, depending on the state.

Try living on 40 percent of your income and no overtime. This should be incentive enough to make injury reduction and job-specific fitness a priority every day.

The second issue we see is that few responders retire from years of service; they retire on medical disability. Retirement is great; retirement with pain and disability is not.

You must invest in yourself now. If you are new to EMS, stay fit and healthy. If you have been in for a while and the job has taken its toll, make changes now. 

Use the wellness resources that your employer provides, have fun with your fitness, enlist the support of your peers to stay consistent, ask for help, and by all means treat you as the most precious investment there is.

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