The Fitness Test That Tells the Truth About Your Health

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A few years ago a Bountiful firefighter was doing his annual physical fitness test when he had a cardiac event and later died. When McKay-Dee Hospital physical therapists Doug Flint and Tyler Sedgwick heard the story, they wanted to find a safer and easier fitness test. Their research has led to a test that is changing the lives of local firefighters — and it’s being piloted for patients.

The fitness test, called a METs test (metabolic equivalents of task), uses a number or “score” to measure a person’s health risk and even predict mortality rates. The test takes place on a treadmill in a controlled environment. It’s simple and easy, and takes as little as 15 minutes.

“The score provides a number you can use to set and achieve personalized fitness goals,” says Doug. “The higher the MET score the better your overall health. A MET score of 12 or above is recommended nationally as the industry standard for firefighters. Those who score below a 12, have a higher frequency of abnormalities on their EKGs, more job injuries, and more sick days.”

Doug says that for patients and the general public, a score of 8 or below is the biggest predictor of mortality. He cites a 2009 JAMA article that discusses the link between cardiorespiratory fitness and coronary heart disease. “We’re finding that instead of telling these firefighters they need to make changes and giving them all these things to do, it’s a lot simpler to provide the test and then focus on the implementation of personalized health and fitness strategies overtime,” he says.

The changes to participants and how they look at health have been phenomenal. Working with a fitness test that not only has a specific score to aim for, but is also safer and more accurate has been very motivating for the firefighters as far as their overall health.

Rock Toone, a Weber Fire District Captain who has worked in the department for 15 years, says "This test tells the truth about your health – you can’t rush to prepare. As a team we see that what you eat and your fitness level not only affects job performance, but also longevity. We now have a team approach of being committed to helping each other. Instead of candy, we now have fruits and vegetables because we know the value of our health."

Doug adds, “Firefighters lead the country in job-related cardiac deaths. At a local level we wanted to see if we could make an impact. When you go into a burning building you want the firefighter to not only be strong, but also have good cardiovascular fitness and overall health so they can do the job and return to their families at the end of the day.”

Doug and Tyler, along with the McKay-Dee Physical Therapy teams at the Ogden Workmed Clinic and Layton Clinic are working with fire departments in Weber and Davis counties throughout the year, helping to improve scores. Dr. Nathan Foote from the Intermountain WorkMed physician division has also participated in the research and safety for the testing.

The program is also being piloted on a larger scale for patients as part of their yearly physical. Dr. Randy Steinfeldt at the North Ogden Instacare is running the pilot, which is expected to continue through 2017.