February Is American Heart Month: Know Your Health

Every year, more firefighters die in the line of duty because of heart attacks than any other cause. This February, take time during American Heart Month to know your health and learn what you can do to lessen your risks of heart attack and other life-threatening or life-altering conditions.

Many first responders struggle with medical issues such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. First responders must be ready at a moment’s notice to battle very demanding emergencies, and it is critical that they be physically and mentally prepared for the job at hand.

The first step in preventing or overcoming heart-related medical conditions is to know your health. Follow your physician’s recommendations for physicals and health screenings, and make sure to tell your physician you are a first responder.

Educate yourself on various heart health risk factors, such as hypertension and obesity. Learn what you can do to minimize your risks and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Take steps to improve your lifestyle by incorporating fitness and healthy eating, managing stress, limiting alcohol and quitting smoking.

The National Volunteer Fire Council’s Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program is there to help you know your health and reduce your risk factors. Visit www.healthyfirefighter.org to access tools to focus on your own health as well as start or expand a health and wellness program in your department.

Resources available include:

• Information on critical health topics including heart disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and weight.

• Resources to help you get active, including functional fitness videos to prepare you for the next call.

• Tips and recipes to help you eat right without sacrificing taste.

• Tools for making healthy lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking or supporting others in their efforts to quit.

• Resources for starting a department health and wellness program, including a guide for developing a successful program, health and wellness advocate training, a tool kit for securing sponsors, monthly fitness challenges and much more.

• Online training webinars on a variety of health and wellness topics, from functional fitness and nutrition, to implementing a department-wide program.


Heart disease is a known danger to firefighters and emergency responders. Take proactive measures to know your health and what you can do to keep your heart strong for yourself and those who depend on you. Learn more and access resources at www.healthy-firefighter.org/know-your-health

Know Your Health Tips

High Blood Pressure

1. Have your blood pressure checked regularly – knowing your numbers helps you stay in charge of your health.

2. Maintain a healthy weight range, based on your age and gender (as recommended by a physician).

3. Participate in a minimum of 30-60 minutes of moderately intense activity five times per week.

4. Reduce your salt intake, choosing reduced-sodium food options when available.

5. Take medications as directed and speak with your physician about any questions or concerns.

6. Reduce alcohol consumption, which constricts blood vessels and causes an increase in blood pressure.

7. Increase your potassium intake to help lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure.

8. Avoid tobacco products, which cause blood pressure to increase.

9. Cut back on caffeine, which can increase blood pressure.

10. Take steps to reduce your stress outside of the fire station.


1. Have your cholesterol levels checked regularly.

2. Avoid foods high in saturated fats, such as butter, margarine, and vegetable oil; choose healthier canola or olive oil instead.

3. Get more fiber in your diet to help lower your cholesterol.

4. Eat more fish, which is high in the cholesterol-combatting omega-3 fatty acids.

5. Reduce alcohol consumption.

6. Choose nuts for a snack to help lower cholesterol (but look for them with reduced or no salt).

7. Check the food label to find out how much cholesterol it contains, plus which ingredients the cholesterol comes from.

8. Try swapping out your afternoon coffee for a fruit smoothie, which provides a natural source of energy while increasing your fiber intake.


1. Get screened for diabetes regularly.

2. Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol as elevated levels are risk factors for diabetes.

3. Know your family history and discuss it with your doctor; diabetes can be passed genetically.

4. Make sure your physician knows that you are a first responder; high-stress situations can cause your body to produce more insulin, dangerously lowering your blood glucose levels.

5. Stay hydrated by getting at least eight, eight-ounce servings (64 ounces) of water per day at a minimum.

6. Eat regularly. Skipping meals can cause your blood glucose to drop, so keep healthy snacks at the station to keep you going during long shifts.

7. Maintain a healthy weight range, based on your age and gender (as recommended by a physician).

8. Try to get seven to eight hours of sleep per day to keep hormone levels balanced, which helps you resist unhealthy snacking.

Managing Weight

1. Talk to your physician to find out what a healthy weight and

Body Mass Index (BMI) is for you.

2. Read the food labels, checking for both total content of fat, cholesterol, sodium, and other potentially unhealthy components, as well as the ingredient list to see where these come from.

3. Limit alcohol consumption based on physician recommended amounts as determined by your individual health, gender, and weight.

4. Try eating five small meals a day rather than three big ones, which helps control hunger levels to avoid overeating.

5. Choose leaner meats and poultry over the higher fat options, and remove the skins.

6. Bake, grill or broil food instead of frying it.

7. Have multiple servings of vitamin- and fiber-full vegetables and fruits each day.

8. Choose healthy whole grain products to provide fiber and keep you filling full longer.

– Kimberly Quiros, National Volunteer Fire Council

In support of FASNY’s “A Healthy Firefighter Is Everyone’s Fight” initiative,

The Volunteer Firefighter will feature stories addressing different wellness

topics specific to the fire service in each issue this year.