Nutrition and Physical Fitness for Law Enforcement Officers
Law enforcement officers deal with high levels of stress that can chisel away at their overall fitness. Dangers, shift rotations and psychological stress are factors that take their toll on their health.
Wellness specialists suggest that police departments can see a drop in absenteeism and an improvement in employee morale by introducing nutrition and physical fitness programs.
The average age of death of a law enforcement officer is 66 years, a`cording to John M. Violanti, PhD, author of “Law Enforcement Wellness Association: Dying From the Job: The Mortality Risk For Police Officers.”
He theorizes that the job stress can be linked to the higher rates of digestive and hematopoietic cancers found in law enforcement officers, especially officers with 10 to 19 years of experience.
Violanti estimates that 40 percent of officers are cigarette smokers and 25 percent are dependent on alcohol, which contribute to the overall police mortality rates.
The city of San Mateo, in California, initiated a wellness program for its law enforcement officers. Officers usually work four consecutive days followed by four days off duty. Once a week, an officer is allowed to spend one 60-minute session in the on-site weight room while on duty.
The one-hour workout allows him to build muscular strength, endurance and flexibility. A nearby hospital conducts individual assessments to determine each officer’s level of physical fitness. The screening includes of a weigh in, a three-minute step exercise and body composition measurements.
According to San Mateo’s website, the department is holding the line on medical costs and absenteeism while enhancing the overall community image and morale of the department.
Fitness coach Brian Fass recommends that all first-responders pay attention to nutrition, exercise, stress and sleep. “In this line of work, if you do not keep yourself fit, the statistics say that it will break you,” Fass writes in “Officer: Five Simple Wellness Strategies.”
He encourages law enforcement officers to lift weights before doing cardiovascular workouts. This allows the body to burn fat faster and more efficiently.
A food journal can be an eye-opener for many officers, who often overeat and skip meals because of the constant shift rotations. “Write down everything that enters your mouth, and you will be amazed at how an objective look at your eating habits will help to guide you toward better eating,” says fitness specialist Brian Fass.
He also suggests that law enforcement officers bring meals to work so they can control food portions, in addition to avoiding sugar while on duty.
The Law Enforcement Wellness Association provides consultation to law enforcement agencies that want to provide nutrition and fitness counseling to its personnel. The association recommends three hours of fitness training per week to maintain a necessary fitness level.
“You don’t need physical fitness very often, but when you do, the absence of fitness can have dire consequences for the individual officer, his or her partner, and the public we are sworn to protect,” according to the organization’s website.