Study Suggests Med Diet Benefits Cardiovascular Health of Firefighters

Researchers say the results show that instruction on healthy lifestyle habits in academies could help improve physical fitness and the overall health of firefighters.

Jul. 20, 2020
By Julie Al-Zoubi

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A recent study by sci­en­tists from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty’s TH Chan School of Pub­lic Health found that adher­ence to the MEDI-Lifestyle sig­nif­i­cantly reduced the risk of hyper­ten­sion and improved aer­o­bic capac­ity in America’s young fire­fight­ers.

See more: Health News

The study, which was pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Occu­pa­tional and Envi­ron­men­tal Med­i­cine, sug­gested that intro­duc­ing healthy lifestyle habits, includ­ing the Mediter­ranean diet, in fire train­ing acad­e­mies could help boost the ben­e­fits of firefighter’s phys­i­cal train­ing and improve their car­dio­vas­cu­lar health.

Our results sug­gest that fire acad­emy inter­ven­tions designed to increase healthy lifestyle habits over­all could add addi­tional ben­e­fits to the phys­i­cal fit­ness train­ing tra­di­tion­ally pro­vided in acad­emy set­tings.- Ste­fanos N Kales, co-author of the study

U.S. fire­fight­ers have been iden­ti­fied as being at high risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and sud­den car­diac death due to the stren­u­ous nature of their work cou­pled with con­ven­tional risk fac­tors, includ­ing obe­sity and high blood pres­sure.

The researchers believe that if this study was fol­lowed up with fur­ther research it could lead to the Mediter­ranean diet and other lifestyle changes being pro­moted as a ben­e­fi­cial new approach to bet­ter health in fire­fight­ing acad­e­mies.

The study focused on almost 100 new recruits from two dif­fer­ent fire­fight­ing train­ing cen­ters. The vol­un­teers, who were mostly males with an aver­age age of 25.6 years, were required to com­plete MEDI-Lifestyle ques­tion­naires in order to assess their lifestyles.


Par­tic­i­pants answered ques­tions about their weight, sleep pat­terns, adher­ence to a Mediter­ranean diet, smok­ing habits, phys­i­cal activ­ity and num­ber of hours spent watch­ing tele­vi­sion.

A point was awarded for each healthy char­ac­ter­is­tic and a score of between five and seven was con­sid­ered to be good. Par­tic­i­pants with the least healthy lifestyles achieved scores of between zero and two.

Higher scores were found to be linked to increased phys­i­cal fit­ness and less body fat. It was also dis­cov­ered that higher scor­ing recruits were less prone to hyper­ten­sion and for every extra point scored the risk of hyper­ten­sion fell by 36 per­cent.

A high MEDI-Lifestyle score also increased aer­o­bic capac­ity. Every extra point scored was noted to dou­ble aer­o­bic capac­ity. High lev­els of phys­i­cal activ­ity and plenty of sleep were also noted as con­tribut­ing fac­tors to bet­ter aer­o­bic capac­ity.

Our results sug­gest that fire acad­emy inter­ven­tions designed to increase healthy lifestyle habits over­all could add addi­tional ben­e­fits to the phys­i­cal fit­ness train­ing tra­di­tion­ally pro­vided in acad­emy set­tings,” co-author Ste­fanos N Kales told News Wise.

Kales co-authored an ear­lier study in 2014, which con­cluded that a Mediter­ranean-style diet was ben­e­fi­cial for reduc­ing the risk of heart dis­ease and meta­bolic syn­drome in par­tic­i­pat­ing fire­fight­ers.

How­ever, this was the first study to focus on the ben­e­fi­cial effects of a mod­i­fied Mediter­ranean-style diet in young U.S. fire­fight­ers. Pre­vi­ous stud­ies had con­cen­trated on older peo­ple, par­tic­i­pants with pre-exist­ing health con­di­tions and Mediter­ranean pop­u­la­tions.

This ini­tial study first sparked the idea that edu­cat­ing Amer­i­can fire­fight­ers on the ben­e­fits of the Mediter­ranean diet and encour­ag­ing them to improve their dietary habits could be an effec­tive way to improve their over­all health and reduce their risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease.

The 2014 study con­cluded that fire­fight­ers who fol­lowed the mod­i­fied Mediter­ranean-style diet were less prone to be obese, had lower body fat and were more phys­i­cally fit. Obese fire­fight­ers and those whose diets were rich in fast foods and sug­ary bev­er­ages scored lower than fire­fight­ers with healthy eat­ing habits and those of nor­mal weight.

Par­tic­i­pants who adhered to the mod­i­fied Mediter­ranean-style diet also reported lower lev­els of LDL (bad) cho­les­terol and higher lev­els of HDL (good) cho­les­terol, which sug­gested a lower risk to heart dis­ease and a 35-per­cent reduced risk of meta­bolic syn­drome com­pared to low scor­ing par­tic­i­pants.


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