By Heather R. Cotter, International Public Safety Association Executive Director
Editor's Note: This article reprinted with permission of Police1
It is well known that there is an obesity epidemic in America. According to the National Institute of Health, more than one-third of adults are obese. It’s a serious issue that plagues the law enforcement profession due to long hours, working variable shifts and high stress.
One study by the FBI estimated that more than 80% of American cops are obese. This threat to officer safety requires action. Getting started is tough – making a lifestyle change requires a shift in mindset – but it is not a fight police officers are destined to lose. There are some easy steps that every cop can take to improve their physical health – from nutrition to activity. It starts by self-reflection, acceptance and dedication to making lifestyle changes that will benefit the officer’s overall health.
Here are four fitness habits that all police officers must adopt to improve overall health and fitness. Before beginning any new workout program, you are highly encouraged to get a physical exam from a medical doctor.
1. Alternate Workouts
It is imperative cops work out regularly each week, especially given the demands of the job. While there are several types of workouts, the fundamental rule is that fitness should include a balance of two types of workouts: cardio and resistance. The workouts must vary because repetitive training often results in overuse injuries and possible boredom.
Beginners or individuals who have not worked out in the last 30 days should start slow to build up physical endurance. Intermediate and advanced fitness enthusiasts need to also add variety in their workouts to encourage new muscle growth, prevent overuse injuries and prevent burnout.
2. Perform Cardio Exercises
Cardio is meant to get your heart rate elevated and is not limited to one type of exercise. The CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of cardio per week for all adults. This should be planned over several days throughout each week and the exercises should vary either per workout, per week or per month.
Performing different cardio exercises often will prevent overuse injuries and prevent the body from adapting too much to a specific type of workout. The idea is to keep your body guessing to encourage muscle growth, maximize calorie burn and to challenge yourself physically.
Cardio workouts include jumping rope (have you ever seen boxer skip – it’s awesome), cycling, kettlebell, running, jumping jacks (or other plyometrics), rowing and elliptical. All cops need to include cardio in their workouts. Variety is the key to making a lifestyle change.
3. Incorporate Resistance Training
All cops need to lift weights or engage in some type of resistance training. On average, it is estimated that up to five percent of muscle is lost every decade after the age of 30. Because of this, it is necessary to make resistance training part of your workout routine.
A balanced resistance training program will target several muscle groups in the lower body, the core and upper body. Examples of resistance training exercises include bench press, push-ups, rows, pull-ups, bicep curls, tricep extensions, shoulder presses, lunges, squats, deadlifts and calf raises. Even yoga is a form of resistance training. This is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good starting point. One of my favorite and often visited websites has a fairly comprehensive exercise database.
4. Use the Correct Athletic Gear
Workouts require different types of athletic gear. For example, running requires running shoes, skipping (jump rope) should be done in cross-trainers, and every cyclist must wear a helmet. Compression socks or sleeves help prevent stress fractures and a yoga mat will help prevent a disastrous fall and keep you centered. Another piece of equipment that all cops should consider is the Fitbit or other fitness tracking devices. Fitness trackers encourage you to move and they hold you accountable. While they are not 100 percent accurate, they are an excellent tool for cops to use when making lifestyle changes and tracking daily fitness goals.
Fitness is a lifestyle change for many cops. It takes time to adopt the fitness lifestyle mentality, but after a couple of weeks of implementing a dedicated routine, it becomes a habit.
All cops need to make fitness a part of their routine and fight the obesity epidemic. A cop’s level of fitness can mean the difference between life and death on any given day.
About the Author
Heather R. Cotter serves as the Executive Director of the International Public Safety Association, a 501(c)3 non-profit. She’s been working with public safety professionals for several years and understands the challenges agencies and resource constraints agencies continue to face. Heather has a Master's degree from Arizona State University and a Bachelor's at Indiana University, both in Criminology.
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*This article, originally published 12/08/2016, has been updated.