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The Road to Wellness

Developing healthy lifestyles is an important component of officer survival.

November 01, 1996  |  by Lawrence Hieskell

What is wellness? Is it a myth or a goal. Most of us can remember a time when we felt especially well, when goals were being realized, rewards seemed reasonable or a relationship was good. Some of us can also remember feeling unwell because of emotional or physical conditions, losses or frustrations. We can also remember periods of time when we were living our lives in a particularly healthy pattern and times when we were not, either by personal choice or circumstance. We have the ability to perceive and change our lives if we chose to do so. Personal wellness, there-fore, is an uniquely human prerogative.

As police officers, we recognize the relationship between personal and professional well-ness. As professional, we constantly work to changes in law enforcement. And as individuals of diverse backgrounds, we simultaneously nurture relationships and seek personal and professional growth. Yet many of us also know that with a challenging and exciting career in law enforcement comes stress on our bodies, minds and relationships.

The key to longevity in law enforcement is maintaining physical and mental health. The decision to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as starting a regular exercise program or quitting smoking, must be followed by an emotional decision for these changes to actually take place. Changing bad habits is difficult; It may even seem impossible at first. But the rewards of good habits are a new sense of energy and Physical freedom.

In the last 10 years, research has indicated that a low-fat, high-complex carbohydrate diet is the best way to improve health and increase life span.

The National Research Council recommends a total fat intake of no more than 30 percent of total calories consumed, saturated fat of less than 10 percent of calories and a total daily cholesterol level of less than 200 milligrams. The council also recommends an increased intake of complex carbohydrates and moderate protein intake. Meeting the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of supple­mental vitamins and minerals, and consuming less than 6 grams of salt per day along with adequate amounts of calci­um and fluoride are also recommended. Other important considerations in planning a healthy diet are moderation and variety. Consuming a variety of foods in each category provides a better bal­ance of nutrients. A moderate diet provides limited salt and simple sugars without excess calories.

The four food groups we learned about in school as children have been replaced by a new classification sys­tem called the food pyramid. The new system represents a big reduction in the consumption of animal products and instead emphasizes carbohydrates, fruits and vegeta­bles. For an adult, the pyramid recommends daily intake of the following:

  1. Six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice, pasta or other complex carbohydrates
  2. Four to six servings of vegetables or beans
  3. Two to four servings of fruit, two to three servings of dairy products, and one to two servings of poultry, fish and meat.

Although quick weight-loss programs are popular, they almost never work long term. The majority of partici­pants eventually gain the weight back. A weight-reduc­tion program that works is one that includes dietary changes you can live with for the rest of your life. Exer­cise is an essential part of any weight-loss program. Reducing caloric intake alone will not only reduce adi­pose (fat) tissue, but also muscle mass. The combination of decreased caloric intake and exercise, however, will maintain muscle mass while reducing adipose tissue.

Ideally, you should only eat when you are at least moderately hungry, and you should stop when you are satisfied. People often do not recognize the sensation of satiety and, therefore, do not know when to discontinue eating. Eating slowly is important to readily evaluate your satiety. This, however, is often difficult for officers on patrol.

For police officers, work is usually busy and stressful, lending itself to quick meals and fast-food restaurants. You must learn to eat more slowly and take time to listen to the satiety signals. Do not use food as a stress reducer. Make time for an adequate meal break during the shift, and bring some fruit, low-fat muffins or high-fiber snacks with you.

Total Fitness

Law enforcement requires a high degree of physical and mental fitness. The demands of a busy shift can be both mentally and physically exhausting. Physical fitness requires planned and regular exercise. Being physically fit means that you will not only be prepared for your busy shift, but will look and feel better, too.

Advantages of aerobic exercise include decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and increased ability to keep on the go during your entire shift without physical fatigue.

It is also possible to squeeze in small bits of exercise throughout the day by using stairs, for example, instead of elevators. Once you have established your daily exer­cise routine" you may find that you will need incentives to maintain your program. These incentives can include working out with a fellow officer or friend, setting goals or keeping a daily log of workout accomplishments.

Tags: Officer Fitness, Foot Pursuits, PTSD


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