How Paramedics Can Stay Healthy at Work
Being a paramedic is a physically taxing job. They are often required to lug around heavy equipment, rush to patients needing immediate help, and run up and down stairs. They must maintain a certain level of physical fitness to be able to do the job.
Some states and hospitals include fitness tests to screen paramedics applying for a job, assessing their endurance, strength, and flexibility. The goal of these tests is to ensure paramedics can quickly recover from physical exertion and still fulfill their responsibilities.
In addition, paramedics also need to be mentally alert, mainly when they are in the field, as they may need to make life and death decisions. Studies have shown that individuals working night shifts have a 25% to 30% higher risk of injury than those working day shifts. Working for 12 hours straight can result in a similar risk of injury.
Since most paramedics do shift work, which can become a risk factor for poor health, a focus on their health and wellness should be a priority. Poor health among paramedics can result in compromised patient care.
Tips for Staying Healthy at Work
With the demands of their work, how can paramedics stay healthy? Here are some tips:
A healthy diet is critical to physical performance, but when a job involves driving around or leaping into action at a moment’s notice, it can be tempting to rely on take-out. On busy days, hours may pass with no opportunity to eat a meal, which may lead to choosing salty, high-calorie meals with low nutrition. That’s why it’s imperative to plan ahead for healthy eating.
- Prepare meal plans: Since calls are often unpredictable, preparing meals ahead can help paramedics stay on track with their eating habits. Bringing home-cooked meals to work or preparing food at the start of the shift can help ensure proper nourishment. Having access to food that is easy to prepare and eat on the go, like whole-wheat sandwiches with lean protein, can keep paramedics fueled.
- Manage serving sizes: Some paramedics may be tempted to overeat while things are slow at work. This practice is not advisable as it can cause them to feel drowsy or bloated, which will make it more difficult to perform some of the more physical aspects of their duties.
- Eat regularly: Regular healthy meals and snacks can help ensure the body stays fueled and prevents overeating or hunger pangs.
- Balance nutrients: A healthy diet must have a balance of carbohydrates and fiber, protein, and fat. Get carbohydrates and fiber from foods like whole grains, baked potatoes, beans, and quinoa. These sources are highly preferred because they can provide sustainable forms of fuel. Choose lean protein like chicken or fish when possible, baked or poached instead of fried. Opt for low-fat dairy and healthy fats, such as almonds and extra virgin olive oil.
Dehydration can contribute to easy fatigability, so ensure that you have a bottle of water handy at all times. Avoid relying on coffee and energy drinks as a source of hydration; too much caffeine can act as a diuretic and lead to fluid loss. According to FDA guidelines, individuals should limit caffeine consumption to 400 milligrams per day. Better options are water, unsweetened herbal teas, and coconut water.
Some may argue that being a paramedic is already a physically challenging occupation, so exercise may no longer be necessary. However, studies have shown that staying physically active helps paramedics’ and other health workers’ physical and mental health. Getting into a regular exercise routine can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, enhance endurance, improve concentration, and boost mood and energy. Exercise is also critical in regulating circadian rhythm, which shift workers like paramedics need.
Sleep quality should also be considered. Sleeping well is more than just getting eight hours of sleep per day. Among all healthcare professionals, paramedics show the highest prevalence of sleep disorders. These sleep impairments can lead to poor performance, impaired health, and even morbidity when left untreated. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule can help paramedics adjust their body clock with their sleep patterns, critical for increasing their sleep quality. Avoiding alcoholic beverages after their shift can also help paramedics sleep better.
Paramedics have job roles that require them to stay physically and mentally healthy during their training and work. However, the nature of the position can make it challenging to do so, and may predispose them to poor health. Shifting to healthier lifestyle choices is key to staying healthy at work. Learn how to become a paramedic by exploring our programs page. If you know anyone who might benefit from these tips, share this article with them.