We all know the mentally unhealthy habits of a first responder, but how aware are you of the physically unhealthy habits?
Let’s briefly go over some of the most common unhealthy habits of a first responder and some possible ways to help. Not everything is for everyone and not everyone has these habits, but for some, this might spark some ideas to change and get healthier.
Let’s start with the most common path to unhealthy habits: drinks. When you’re on the go, it’s easy to grab a quick guzzle of something to perk you up. Make sure you know what you’re putting into your body, as some of these are not good in large quantities.
Most adults drink coffee worldwide, but are we overdoing it? We want the caffeine, but coffee’s caffeine actually increases stress hormones and insulin levels. While responders want to feel awake and react quickly on the job, too much caffeine consumption can lead to our body not knowing to fuel itself naturally and coffee can lower serotonin levels over time. Look, no one here at FRC is saying to stop drinking coffee, but be aware of its effects and how much you’re consuming.
2. Energy Drinks
It’s easy to throw a few energy drinks in the lunch bag, but many contain loads of sugar. Plus, energy drinks have been shown to increase diabetes risk by about 26%. It might be good to read the label carefully before loading up on these.
Another sugary drink is soda. Free refills sound great and these are easy to suck down between calls, but the sugar contents can lead to increased risks of obesity, diabetes, and other health concerns. Soda is okay from time to time, but be sure to turn to water more often to hydrate yourself.
Everyone likes to wind down and relax after a stressful shift, but moderation is vital to avoid creating unhealthy habits. Not only does drinking alcohol lead to things like addiction, behavior change, or dangerous intoxication, but alcohol contains lots of calories and can contribute to obesity. A few drinks at select times, knowing your limits, and being responsible go a long way for your health.
5. Fast Food
Fast food from popular chains makes for a great drive-up meal, but over time all that grease and fat can cause obesity, and heart problems, and contribute to a poor stress response. It’s best to limit your fast food intake as much as possible and pack a lunch more often. Not only could this reduce unhealthy habits, but save you money.
Snacks get us through the day sometimes but they shouldn’t replace a full, healthy meal. When we start using snacks to substitute breakfast, lunch, or dinner, we create unhealthy habits that offset our bodies. We start to store more fat to compensate and have less fuel to burn.
7. Packaged Food
Food that’s been packaged often contains preservatives, higher fat content, too much oil, or too much sodium which your body doesn’t properly process. Junk food like chips, fruit snacks, candy, or even granola bars can contain added ingredients you don’t need and that don’t contribute to a healthy body. It’s fine to selectively choose a few packaged items to get through a shift if you’re not able to have a meal, but be selective and make sure your main fuel comes from a healthy plate of good food.
8. Nocturnal/Diurnal Flip-Flopping
We live in a diurnal world but many responders work the overnights, making them at least partly nocturnal. While you may be subject to the schedule you’ve got, flip-flopping from days to nights can damage your chances of good sleep. Sleep studies have shown the importance of homeostasis and a steady circadian rhythm, and that’s hard to achieve when jumping into a night shift, then days, then nights again.
We know this may not be something that can be helped, but it’s definitely on the list of unhealthy habits for first responders. We need our responders twenty-four-seven, so the best option is to keep night shifts in a row to help maintain a steady circadian rhythm as long as possible.
9. Naps vs. Natural Sleep
If only sleep was a bank and you could sleep for 24 hours to cover 3 days. But it’s not. For this reason, it’s not always helpful to take multiple naps a day to make up for a long, good night’s sleep. No nap is sometimes worse, but planning one’s sleep is best. Try to strategically place nap times to get through a coming shift and work it farther from a planned “night’s” sleep so the longer sleep is quality sleep.
10. Sleeping Anywhere But Your Bed
Naps often happen outside the bedroom, but the long “night’s” sleep shouldn’t. You may be staying at the station for a few days, but the best sleep is going to happen in your own bed. Do what you can to mimic that when you’re away from your bed by having the same or similar pillow or blanket or following a short sleep routine that works for you.
Other Unhealthy Habits
11. Actual Exercise Vs. Strenuous Activities
Healthy workouts are vital to staying in shape, but strenuous activities like hauling equipment or patients should not be considered exercise. While it’s physical labor and exhausting, it’s not structured and not always safe or controlled. Keeping your body in shape with healthy and controlled exercise routines will help condition you to do the more strenuous work activities with hopefully less strain and effort.
Okay, here’s one unhealthy habit that’s simply unhealthy and the best alternative is to simply quit. There’s nothing good about smoking though many use the habit to burn off stress. While we may not be able to fix our sleep schedules or find time to always eat healthy, not smoking should be a priority. The CDC has lots to say about the ill effects of smoking. If you’re looking to quit – and we support you! – check this out. Need support in quitting smoking? Try coaching!
Take Care of You
First responder life is hard. It’s hard on the body, mind, and soul. Sometimes, when we feel out of control, we need to grasp something physical. That’s why it’s good to know the physically unhealthy habits and ways to reduce them.
We get it, we really do. You probably laughed at some of these knowing you can’t do much about them. But there is a way to reduce unhealthy habits and live better starting today. What can you work on right now?