SATURDAY, Nov. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Exercise is meant to help prevent injuries in firefighters, but these workers are more likely to be injured while working out than while combating fires, according to a new study.

The researchers also found that injuries suffered while transporting patients are the leading cause of time off work for firefighters.

The study examined injuries reported between 2004 and 2009 among 650 firefighters, paramedics, engineers, inspectors and battalion chiefs while at work at 21 fire stations in Tucson, Arizona. Their average age was 41, and 95 percent were males.

The average yearly incidence of new injuries was 17.7 per 100 employees, and most of the injuries occurred to those in their 30s and 40s. Exercise-related injuries accounted for one-third of the total, 17 percent occurred while transporting patients, and about 10 percent occurred during training drills, the investigators found.

Sprains and strains accounted for between 40 and 85 percent of injuries, followed by cuts and bruising. Most (95 percent) of the injuries were minor. Only 10 percent of injuries occurred during firefighting, but a higher percentage of these were serious.

Strains and sprains suffered while transporting patients accounted for nearly half of the injury-related time taken off work, according to the report published online Nov. 23 in the journal Injury Prevention.

Firefighting and emergency medical services combined have one of the highest workplace injury and death rates in the United States, study author Gerald Poplin, of the epidemiology and biostatistics division at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and colleagues pointed out in a journal news release.

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A National Fire Protection Association report says firefighter injuries have declined since 2009.