OSU Tactical Fitness and Nutrition is a collaborative research and educational endeavor between the School of Kinesiology, Applied Health and Recreation and the Department of Nutritional Sciences. Led by Drs. Jay Dawes and Jill Joyce, the aim of this collaboration is to provide support for first responders and U.S. military personnel in order to improve their overall health, fitness and performance.
First responders and military personnel have some of the most physically demanding jobs in our society. However, the “tactical athlete” does not often receive the same level of support in relation to fitness and nutrition to which collegiate and professional athletes are accustomed. Additionally, these individuals often experience challenges that may actually hinder their overall health and wellness. Workplace stress, coupled with poor eating habits, shift work and the need to perform strenuous physical tasks that must often be performed under life threatening situations, pose serious health hazards for servicemen, police and firefighters. In fact, according to Dr. Jill Joyce, assistant professor of public health nutrition, approximately 40 percent of firefighting fatalities in the line of duty are due to heart attack.
Dr. Joyce is partnering with Dr. Dawes, assistant professor of applied exercise science, to make OSU a primary resource for military and first responder outreach and research related to fitness and nutrition. Currently, Drs. Joyce and Dawes and their team of graduate students provide research support and services to several groups, including the OSU Reserve Officer Training Course (ROTC), Stillwater Police Department, Colorado State Patrol, Indiana State Patrol and the U.S. Special Operations Command.
“Our goal is to serve the populations that are serving us,” Dr. Joyce said. “At the same time, we want to add to the body of research and provide opportunities for our students.”
Some of the services provided include workplace nutrition education, testing and assessment of fitness and occupational efficiency, and both group and personal strength and conditioning programs.
“Conducting research in these environments can be quite challenging due to administrative, legal issues, as well as time and resource constraints,” said Dr. Dawes. “In order to serve this community, you have to be adaptable and comfortable working within these constraints”.
Dr. Joyce mentors and supervises dietetic interns who provide nutrition classes for OSU ROTC members. Since roughly 75 percent of U.S. military officers begin their careers through ROTC, the hope is that these educational services can positively impact the health and performance of troops under these officers’ care as they progress in their careers.
“In some cases, there may only be a few Registered Dietitians on a military base of 15,000 soldiers and their families,” Dr. Joyce said. “This training could help officers mentor their troops about military height and weight requirements and even improve performance.”
Dr. Dawes complements Dr. Joyce’s work with exercise outreach programs in this interdisciplinary collaborative, as part of the Colleges of Education, Health, and Aviation and Human Sciences. His work includes developing personalized training programs for first responders who must meet department fitness requirements, conducting health, fitness and occupational testing to identify potential areas for improvement and to reduce injury risk.
“Often we expect first responders and military personnel to perform high-level feats of strength and fitness we would ask of someone who’s a professional athlete,” Dr. Dawes said. “For this reason, they could be at an increased risk of injury beyond the danger already associated with doing their jobs. Especially, when we consider that some individuals in this space have significant health issues.” The question is, ‘How can we help them not only help their jobs better, but also have healthier lives?’”
Dr. Dawes’ past work includes serving as an adviser and physical trainer for numerous law enforcement and fire agencies, as well as several military groups. However, he says this partnership with Dr. Joyce is unique.
“Nutrition and exercise go hand in hand,” Dr. Dawes said. “But it takes a village to provide specific advice on both. So we need to make sure we’re all working in the same direction. That’s where this partnership works really well.”
Dr. Joyce adds having a personal connection to the target demographic also makes the program special. Her father-in-law and brother-in-law work in law enforcement; her uncle and cousin are firefighters; and numerous family members served in the military, including her husband who was active-duty military for nine years.
“They’re my family,” Dr. Joyce said of the military personnel and first responders she works with. “I know the populations really well, and that's incredibly important.”
The next steps for OSU Tactical Fitness and Nutrition will be to finalize several educational programs and platforms to offer even more opportunities for first responders to gain information on improving their health and fitness. Podcasts and social media sites will become public, and groundwork is being laid to make OSU an educational center for developing professionals who will support these communities.
“For us, it’s about getting the information directly to the people who are boots on the ground and giving them material that they need,” Dr. Dawes added.
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