FirstNet and O2X collaborate to promote healthy hearts among first responders
Eat, Sweat, and Thrive your way to optimal heart health
Meeting the needs of first responders through innovative solutions is the foundation of FirstNet. As a result, first responders have the tools to respond effectively to everyday incidents and major disasters. These advances in communication technology help first responders make faster and better decisions related to public safety. But we still need to address a key aspect of responder readiness: making sure first responders are equipped with the tools they need to show up to serve their communities.
Heart attack is the leading cause of death for first responders. In the past decade, 50% of on-duty firefighter deaths were due to heart attack. First responders are acutely aware of the physical and emotional demands of their job. But many do not appreciate the strain that the dangerous work, heavy equipment, and overwhelming amount of stress place on the heart.
This strain, along with environmental challenges, dehydration, and toxic exposures, can easily trigger a sudden cardiac event. Lifestyle choices such as smoking, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition exacerbate the threat through obesity, hypertension, and poor heart health.
FirstNet expands on mission readiness
FirstNet understands the importance of addressing the needs of first responders to ensure they have tools on hand to live a heart-healthy lifestyle. In the last year, FirstNet has collaborated with O2X, a human performance company that provides customized wellness programs for first responders, public safety departments, the military, and federal agencies.
With cardiovascular disease a leading factor in deteriorating health for first responders, O2X challenges first responders who attend their programs to take action to reduce their personal risk of heart disease, as well as cancer and stroke.
Unfortunately, “being healthier” is often not enough to get individuals to make major lifestyle changes. And this is where the unique approach of O2X comes in. First, let’s take a step back to the “why” behind the “how.”
Why make changes?
We are living longer, so we must be doing something right. So why do you need to make changes?
Over the past century, one of the most remarkable human accomplishments is the extreme change in lifespan. In the U.S. alone, the average lifespan increased from 47 years in 1900 to 77 years in 2021. After minimizing the number of deaths from infectious disease in the 1900s, the leading cause of death became cardiovascular disease. Since the mid-1900s, medical advances to help treat cardiovascular disease have played the most significant role in increasing human lifespan.
Unfortunately, while we are now able to treat individuals with cardiovascular disease to extend their lifespan, the onset of cardiovascular disease usually signifies the end of an individual’s health span. Health span refers to the number of years an individual lives free from debilitating conditions associated with disease. In other words, while the average lifespan is 77 years, most people start to notice a significant decline in their quality of life at age 671 due to health problems associated with cardiovascular disease.
Why does that matter? When most people imagine age 65, they think of retirement and a chance to step away from the hectic life of a first responder or whatever career they have chosen. With retirement comes the freedom to live life to its fullest, without the constraints of a 40-hour work week, shiftwork, or raising a family.
If you think about the consequences of deteriorating health at age 671, that blissful retirement phase of life takes an unexpected turn. Recognizing this gap, healthcare organizations have stressed the relevance of disease-free life. Of note, the American Heart Association has set a specific goal for 2030, aiming to lengthen the current health span by at least three years.
How do we fix this?
Lucky for us, we are not heading into this challenge unarmed. Decades of research examining the factors that lead to chronic disease, poor quality of life, and premature death, universally conclude that we can extend health span through changes in our lifestyle. These include quality nutrition, physical activity, and reduced stress and depression.
The challenging part is finding the “how” behind implementing these changes. That is where O2X comes in. With O2X, the message is not about doing it all at once, or making ambitious new year's resolutions (which, according to science, are mostly pushed to the back of the shelf by this time each year). It’s about giving each person the tools to become 1% better every day. O2X helps those in their programs implement small changes to lifestyle, namely what and when they eat, how and when they move, and how they cope with and manage the stress in their life.
They have coined these three tenets “EAT SWEAT THRIVE,” and have been using this approach to build healthier and more resilient teams and first responders, while simultaneously documenting a decrease in cardiovascular disease.
Implementing the Three S’s
Science, Specificity and Support are three key facets to the O2X program that anyone can incorporate into their own approach to improved health and performance:
- Science: Evidence-based practices to improve health are plentiful. Unfortunately, there is a dizzying array of misinformation that can make designing nutrition, training, and mindfulness practices difficult. O2X follows the science, and their approach is backed by a solid foundation of research. Program principles that are taught are mirrored after pivotal nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness research studies.
If a diet, supplement, or training program lacks a scientific evidence base, it will not become part of the program. As a result, the programs are built on a foundation of proven success – whether the goal is to improve health, reach a new athletic peak, or maintain longevity in a stressful career.
- Specificity: The biggest contributor to failure when trying to change habits is “generalizing.” Most people attack a new goal with a broad and ambitious statement. Through their “1% better every day” philosophy, O2X works with clients to create small, incremental, and achievable goals that are sustainable.
Using the “SMART goal” approach (Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Realistic; Timely), participants identify their big goals, and then break them up into smaller targets that are about 1% better than previous practices. Collectively, they add up to the bigger goal over time – whether it is losing 25 pounds, running a faster race, quitting smoking, or decreasing cholesterol.
- Support: The O2X program is exciting! Attendees leave inspired and motivated to start their own “1% better every day” journey. Research has shown, no matter how motivated you are, it’s just not possible to continue to achieve your goals without support. Individuals create their own support networks with family, friends, and co-workers, but for the day-to-day continuity of the program, the O2X App is an essential tool.
The App has daily workout ideas, recipes, inspiration, stress-busting or sleep-enhancing meditations, and encourages accountability. What’s more, if users have a question, they can submit it to the App and receive a personalized response from one of O2X’s specialists.
Eating, Sweating, and Thriving
The program is not just for people who want to make changes associated with poor health. Many first responders are “tactical” or “recreational” athletes who seek to improve their performance at work or in sport. Additionally, since many first responders are “career tactical athletes,” there is a significant focus on implementing changes that will help first responders finish their career as strong as (or stronger than) they started – mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Let’s look at some of the fundamentals that shape the O2X approach to optimizing performance, reducing incidence of cardiovascular disease, and making sure health span mirrors lifespan.
Understanding nutritional processes will help us make wise nutrition decisions. To do this, we need to follow scientifically sound and sustainable practices, not the latest fad from the media. O2X focuses on helping their clients understand the nutrients in food, how the body uses nutrients, and the relationship between diet, performance, and disease.
All clients learn to understand the importance of blood sugar stabilization and its significant impact on hunger, performance, and cardiovascular health markers in the blood, such as cholesterol and insulin sensitivity. In short, consuming a Mediterranean style diet that consists of nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, lean sources of protein (20-25g/meal), fruits, and vegetables results in immediate changes in blood sugar regulation. With blood sugar stabilized due to regular meals from nutrient-dense foods, immediate effects include improved mood, performance, and sleep, and a decrease in cravings, overeating, and indulging in sugary snacks. Over the long term, clients experience reductions in blood cholesterol and glucose, body weight, and body fat.
Exercise does it all. Whether cardiovascular exercise (e.g. running, swimming, biking, rowing, hiking, walking) or strength training, exercise improves blood flow, reduces blood pressure, regulates blood sugar, increases metabolism, assists in maintaining a healthy body weight, preserves joint health, and optimizes bone health. With proper intensity, volume, and frequency, physical activity exerts benefits in the short and long term.
During the training program, O2X conducts daily sessions that incorporate cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility exercises. The team of instructors uses exercises that require equipment, but also those that can be done anywhere (something we saw as an essential tool during the pandemic when many gyms were closed).
Key aspects of the program are in line with national guidelines for heart health, recommending a minimum of 2.5-3.5 hours of cardiovascular exercise each week. This can be obtained in 3-5 bouts of 30-45 minutes over the course of the week. Some who are first starting out break this up into several 5 to10-minute bouts throughout the day.
You can also enhance cardiovascular training with daily flexibility exercises and 2-3 days of strength training each week. Here, tactical athletes learn you can accomplish strength training with the use of body weight and how to structure a progressive training program. Aside from the change in physical appearance and performance that keeps clients engaged, cardiovascular benefits include lowered resting heart rate, reductions in blood pressure, lowered cholesterol, a stronger, more efficient heart muscle, and stress reduction.
Stress is a key contributor to cardiovascular disease and poor health. We often think of busy days, heavy workloads, and life problems as the main contributors to stress. But we forget that poor sleep and interpersonal relationship problems can amplify the stress response to the challenges life throws our way. Collectively, the cycle of chronic stress, poor sleep, disconnected relationships, and occupational workload, accumulate. This contributes to the onset of heart disease because of the undesirable changes in stress hormones in the blood, increases in blood sugar, abdominal weight gain, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
The THRIVE portion of the O2X program takes a multifaceted approach to managing all sources of stress and works with clients on developing skills to better respond to those stressors. Tactical athletes learn techniques such as breathing exercises, guided meditation, dealing with setbacks, and optimizing performance under pressure. They identify ways to improve their sleep hygiene. This is an aspect of the course that is often popular with goal setting, since it often takes many weeks to fall into a new sleep routine. Incorporating stress reduction and sleep hygiene into one’s lifestyle helps to minimize the daily contributors to heart disease. While those tend to be “silent changes,” participants also experience a more positive mindset, better coping skills, and enhanced recovery from exercise.
What’s your 1%?
FirstNet continues to improve the offerings it has for first responders to enhance their communication and public safety. They have advanced their approach to focus on the people who keep their communities safe with the goal of extending careers and reducing the incidence of heart attacks in their most valuable resource, the people. Let’s collectively take advantage of February as National Heart Month and find your 1%.
Download the O2X app today to start improving your cardiovascular health so you can:
- Set goals
- Build routines
- Take steps to improve your heart health every day
Dr. Maria Urso is an O2X Nutrition Specialist and a scientific advocate for optimal health and nutrition. She obtained her PhD in human physiology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While that degree led her to a career as a scientist, first as an Active Duty soldier in the Army, then in Medical Affairs for industry, she continues to follow her passion for health and nutrition by serving as an advocate and educator. Her philosophy is that nutrition and fitness should be for life, not a single event (or outfit). She has published over 30 papers in scientific journals and several book chapters, but she is most comfortable when using her scientific background to write or speak about nutrition and fitness practices.
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1 Galvin AE, Friedman DB, Hébert JR. Focus on disability-free life expectancy: implications for health-related quality of life. Qual Life Res. 2021;30(8):2187-2195. doi:10.1007/s11136-021-02809-1. Click here to read the paper.