Law enforcement officers must be physically fit for many reasons including for job performance, reducing the risk of future diseases, stress reduction, and shift schedules. A healthy lifestyle for law enforcement officers should include exercise, proper nutrition, stress management, substance-abuse prevention, and health-risk management.
Police work takes dedication and a commitment to excellence in every aspect of an officer’s career and life. Physical fitness and health is a significant factor in achieving that excellence. Following are some of the issues regarding the health of police officers and examples of physical fitness routines that can help reduce the problems associated with police duties.
Research about LEO Health
A major scientific study was conducted over a five-year span focusing on the Buffalo Police Department. The Buffalo Cardio-Metabolic Occupational Police Stress (BCOPS) was a large, cross-sectional study of 464 police officers. Results found that:
- More than 25 percent of the officers had metabolic syndrome versus 18.7 percent of the general employed population
- Female and male officers experiencing the highest level of self-reported stress were four- and six-times more likely to have poor sleep quality, respectively
- Organizational stress and lack of support was associated with the metabolic syndrome in female but not male police officers
- Overall, an elevated risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma was observed relative to the general population.
- The risk of brain cancer, although only slightly elevated relative to the general population, was significantly increased with 30 years or more of police service
- Suicide rates were more than eight times higher in working officers than they were in officers who had retired or left the police force
An earlier pilot study of 100 police officers found:
- Shift work is a contributing factor to an increase in metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of symptoms that includes abdominal obesity, hypertension, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and glucose intolerance. Having metabolic syndrome increases the risk for developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes
Components of Physical Fitness
There are six components of physical fitness, according to FitForce, Inc., (2010):
- Cardiovascular endurance is the ability to take in and deliver oxygen to the working muscles to produce energy to sustain activity. Cardiovascular endurance is necessary in approximately 11% of foot pursuits and over 50% of use of force encounter.
- Anaerobic power, the ability to make short, intense bursts of maximal effort, underlies the ability to run short distances and upstairs.
- Muscular strength refers to the muscles’ ability to generate maximal force; it is necessary for performance in control and restraint situations.
- Muscular endurance refers to the muscles’ ability to sustain sub-maximal force, which is necessary for lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying.
- Flexibility, the ability to use the available range of motion at a given joint or structure, is challenged in common tasks such as bending over as well as much less frequent ones, for instance a foot pursuit.
- Body composition, the ratio of fat to lean tissue, is associated with physical performance as well as health.
When I first started preparing for the police academy, I concentrated on cardiovascular endurance, which mainly included running. As I became more aware of the fitness requirements of being a police officer, I realized I needed something better rounded. This was before such programs as Cross-Fit, P90X, and T25, so I looked at standardized law enforcement physical fitness requirements to start my training regimen. A students’ success includes the measurement of:
- Body composition
- Illinois agility run
- Sit and reach
- Bench press
- 1.5 mile run
I have found that a 6- to 8-week cycle works best for me because the purpose of this type of workout, or any workout, is based on the body’s quick adaptability. If a person maintains the same workout routine without changing anything, the neurological pathways in the body—which run between the brain and the muscle—become so efficient that eventually the minimal amount of muscle fibers are used to move the weight.
This is why you constantly need to try and lift more weight than the previous session, change the angle of the exercise, or change the exercise altogether. This change forces the brain to find new neurological pathways to move the weight. Therefore, during the initial lifting phase, an overabundance of muscle fibers is recruited for the lift. As the lift is repeated, the number of muscle fiber recruitment decrease until the minimal amount of fibers is called into play. It’s at this stage where strength gains begin to plateau and the routine needs to be changed (6-8 weeks).
The sample one-day routine that follows is designed to teach the body to effectively work in an environment that combines body-weight specific exercises, cardiovascular training, core development, and multi-tasking movements.
The exercises chosen will attempt to mimic those situations in which you will mostly be working. Body-weight specific exercises are exactly that–exercises which require the movement of body weight through a certain range of motion: pull-ups, dips, push-ups, squats. These exercises are considered compound exercises because they incorporate the simultaneous use of multiple joints.
Cardiovascular training will be incorporated not only through the use of time management while performing these routines, but also through distance running, sprints, and stair climbing. Core exercises incorporate the functional training of our upper and lower abdominals, internal and external obliques and transverse abdominus muscles (the muscles that run along your spine). The work of these muscle groups is paramount in body balance, overall strength, and injury prevention. Multi-tasking movements incorporate the fluid combination of two exercises, which teaches our bodies to move a weight through a specific range of motion using multiple muscle groups.
Monday: 1 Mile Sprint and 150’s:
- 1-mile sprint: Time yourself and record
- Pull ups: 10
- Dips: 20
- Pushups: 30
- Crunches: 40
- Squats: 50
This 150’s routine came from Crossfit.com under a different name. The “150” is the total number of repetitions completed in one cycle. This is an excellent exercise routine because of its inclusion of back to back body-weight exercises.
Time yourself on this routine and attempt to complete the cycle in less than 30 minutes–it can be done. If you would like more examples, please email me atMatthew.Loux67(at)mycampus.apus.edu.
Benefits of Physical Fitness
The benefits of incorporating a physical fitness routine, whether it is like the above example, or something you do on your own, include:
- Weight control
- Combat health conditions and diseases
- Improve your mood
- Increased energy
- Improved sleep
- Increased confidence
A combination of physical fitness with a proper diet can significantly improve your life. As officers become more tenured, they tend to become more complacent in their work and personal habits, including fitness.
It is even more imperative for officers to remain diligent in working out, even if it is walking, stretching, or doing calisthenics each day. Working off-duty jobs, overtime, shift work, court appearances, etc. can take a toll on officers, both physically and mentally. I have found that exercising every day, which can include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, riding a bike rather than walking, or doing simple exercises while sitting behind a desk or at the wheel of a patrol car, improves my moods, my cardiovascular endurance, and also reduces my stress.
As a professor of criminal justice at American Military University, I believe in preparing students for their careers—mind and body. You can even do both: Do exercises while studying for your courses or take study breaks that include exercise or meditation.
How do you incorporate exercise into your life? What have you done to improve your physical fitness?
By Matthew Loux criminal justice faculty at American Military University