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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

Sitting on Your Ass Can Get It Buried

As we age, we cops tend to go to seed. Stay fit now to have a better life later.

September 22, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

Anybody who reads this column knows that I'm not shy about using some idiot as an example. Occasionally, that idiot is the author.

For the better part of a year, I've been dealing with health issues. Some are nothing more than the normal indignities and infirmities that come with advancing years; none of them appear to be in any rush to heal any time soon.

But some of my ailments could have been averted, or at least mitigated, had I been as conscientious in my lifestyle and dietary habits as I'm trying to be now. Such are the legacies of some of that idiocy I alluded to.

Whatever else, these setbacks have seen my social network expand to accommodate all manner of practicing specialists.

These men and woman have conducted all manner of tests, the focal point of many suggesting that some of these specialists are aliens, for we all know how fond aliens are of using probes.

Perhaps it's simply karma. Years of being a pain-in-the-ass have found me dealing with one. If nothing else, I have a newfound empathy for women and the invasive procedures they endure throughout their lifetimes.

But it also made me reflect on just how lax I'd gotten in my working out and dietary habits during the better part of the past two decades.

It's not like I didn't see it coming. It's not like I wasn't warned.

Back in the mid-1980s when I was called "Lean Dean" without a hint of irony, I was walking into the men's locker room at Temple Station when Sgt. Bob Tower yelled at me, "Goddamnit, close that damn door! I don't want those secretaries seeing my body-or what's left of it!"

At the time, I thought Bob's outburst was cute, endearing even. Hell, I was working out-running, lifting weights-and could only wonder how the hell Bob, who'd gone through the same academy as I and at a more difficult time, could have let his body go.

Now, I know just what Bob meant.

We cops get old, some of us well before our time. Sure, there's those Baker-to-Vegas masochists, and the Police and Fire Games crowd. But I suspect that they by and large are the minority, and if the anecdotal numbers are anywhere near correct-that many cops die within a few years of retiring-then my suspicions may well have merit. Certainly, there have been studies showing that male police officers have a higher risk of developing coronary disease than males in the general public.

During my latter years with the department, I'd pass the Officer Down Memorial Page print-out in the hallway of the station, always surprised whenever I'd see that some cop had died incident to a struggle or foot pursuit because of a heart attack. Or worse, just climbing some stairs.

And then I'd think about my own windless treks up the stairs not two minutes before, only to suppress the thought.

I wish I hadn't. For when I look at myself now, I don't see a healthy person. Where was once a fine chin line is now a jowliness, my skin noticeably pale and slack. I need more sun, more vitamin D. I recriminate myself for not keeping my lower abdomen tighter and not having eaten better all those years, and not having climbed those stairs a little more frequently and faster, too.

Ironically, I have undoubtedly eaten better in the past nine or ten months than in the last thirty years.

But to what end?

When you've compromised your body through fatty foods, aspartame, caffeinated sodas, sugar, chocolate, and other crap, you can only hope that somehow things will get incrementally better just as they'd gotten incrementally worse in the first place.

I wonder how many who bother to read this will find themselves thinking, "He's right. He's an idiot," and not worry about any of their own prospective health issues. If they do, I hope it's because they're already keeping themselves in shape and have no reason to worry about it. More power to them.

As for others...

I know there's any number of reasons some people have it rougher than others in trying to stay in shape. Everything from shift work, to cultural mores, to regional work play a part of it. Some southern cops work in conditions so miserable that they forego ballistic vests (thereby creating whole new sets of problems). But then, I have to wonder if their diet doesn't play a part, too. In reviewing the ODMP, I find that in the early months of 1973 alone, three Alabama cops succumbed to heart attacks.

Cops are known for eating on the run, and sometimes they die on the run, too.

Boston Police Officer William Beckman suffered a fatal heart attack while pursuing robbers in the Back Bay. NYPD Officer Kevin Lee died after a foot pursuit and struggle with suspects. Sgt. James Hardin with the Hope Mills (N.C.) Police Department died while running during a foot search for a suspect.

During a recent L.A. Marathon, out of thousands of participants, two collapsed and died. Guess what. Both were cops. One was an active member with the LAPD. The other-who I worked with at City of Industry Station-had retired from LASD.

By all accounts, the man I'd known had lost a lot of weight and stopped smoking. But apparently the damage that he'd inflicted on his body during the preceding years came back to haunt him.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the 30th anniversary reunion of my high school class. Coming on the heels of the death of one of my best friends and having been told of how many others had recently passed away, I guess mortality weighs heavily on my mind these days.

I know this much. I'm tired of seeing doctors. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. And I intend to do something about it.

I'm no optimist, so I'm not saying I'm going to succeed. But I will say this: If the improvement in my health of recent weeks continues, I will get myself back into shape.

But how much easier it would be if I hadn't let myself slide in the first place.

So if you're getting a little soft in the midsection and hard in the arteries, get off your ass. Now.

Take it from one who wishes he had a whole lot sooner.

Tags: Officer Down


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