Firefighter Fitness Status

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA
Mar 19, 2018

A health promotion opportunity for fitness professionals may lie in working with local firefighters. A longitudinal study of fitness-­level changes among firefighters found that while they significantly improve health and fitness measures during firefighter training, many lose a lot of those gains as active-duty firefighters. Physical training is no longer mandatory once firefighters have completed their academy education.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, followed the health and fitness of 27 firefighter recruits as they completed their training and began active duty. Researchers found that after only 22 weeks, health and fitness levels had declined. Part of the reason was likely lack of time available to exercise while performing job responsibilities.

A concern for firefighters is that the job is physiologically demanding. Overexertion is the leading cause of fatalities and the second leading cause of musculoskeletal injuries. Today, firefighters are struggling with increasing rates of obesity (33%–52%) and excess weight (35%–46%). Moreover, weight issues are combined with lower-than-recommended levels of aerobic capacity.

Study authors advise that more attention be dedicated to main­taining the health and fitness of firefighters across their entire career span.

This study is available in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2017; doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001356).

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

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