Fostering a health and fitness culture
By Isabelle Suave
Wellness is currently a prominent buzzword in the law enforcement field, which is formally recognizing and communicating its importance and committing considerably more resources to it.
By Isabelle Suave
Good health and fitness play an intrinsic role in providing quality law enforcement. The majority of police agencies require fitness testing for applicants as part of the hiring process. This pre-employment fitness testing prepares successful applicants for the physical demands they will face at the police college and throughout their careers.
Fitness is emphasized and rewarded for new recruits, but for many officers it gradually declines after they graduate. Aside from some specialty units, officer fitness testing is usually voluntary thereafter.
Fitness is defined as a general state of health and well-being, resulting in the ability to perform aspects of sports, occupations and daily activities. Physical fitness is generally achieved through conscious nutritional discipline, moderate to vigorous physical exercise and adequate rest. It has a positive transformative effect on the quality of work and personal life. It boosts energy and mental clarity, reduces the risk of health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal issues, and other physical injuries, and because it’s a natural mood elevator, it can reduce stress and relieve mild anxiety and depression.
Physically fit officers tend to assess and handle situations better, use less force and are in a better position to diffuse volatile situations. Additionally, they develop a level of self-confidence that makes them capable of making more appropriate contextual decisions. Fitness provides officers with the confidence necessary to trust backup officers, protect other officers and ensure the safety of the communities they serve. Furthermore, fit and healthy officers promote a professional law enforcement image, which might be more important today during the current media climate.
Having an entire police organization at peak fitness is nearly impossible because of many mitigating factors, especially shift work. Nonetheless, the organization must foster a wellness culture and tradition by fully embedding it into their corporate identity. It is important for personnel of all levels, especially leaders, to “walk the talk” and demonstrate a commitment to fitness and wellness. It must not remain an organizational luxury or an afterthought, otherwise its importance will become an afterthought for officers too.
Consistently making physical activity a part of a daily routine is hard work, but having a strong source of support and encouragement and organizational commitment can make it happen more frequently.
Fitness and wellness should be built into the workweek like any other task. Experts consistently reiterate that corporations must emphasize and support fitness if they want fit employees. A conscious dedication, driven from the highest levels is required in order to truly embed it into the culture. Making time for fitness and wellness is part of the solution and cannot be perceived as reducing productivity, as is too often the case. A growing body of research suggests that there is a direct positive correlation between fitness, wellness and productivity, and healthy employees who have higher attendance rates and who are more productive.
Individuals should be encouraged to be active and to take short breaks throughout the workday. Unit and corporate challenges with incentives can help motivate and increase participation. Supporting worker wellness and physical activity sends a strong message and can increase job satisfaction, employee recruitment and retention. Employee input should be sought to inform decision-making and planning.
Access to a properly equipped 24-hour workout facility should be available on site, or alternatively by arrangement with a local fitness centre. The facility should have equipment that allows the targeting of different aspects of fitness such as endurance, flexibility, and job-specific conditioning, and have proper change rooms and showers to facilitate workouts. Physical fitness activities can also include activities such as yoga, meditation, walking, running and other alternatives.
A number of police agencies have created wellness units consisting of professionals across multiple health fields. Ideally, each station should have a wellness liaison to disseminate program information, support individual goals, educate, organize health related activities and motivate co-workers. Educating police personnel will ensure they are equipped with the right knowledge required to achieve their personal goals, and dispel misinformation.
In the long term, fit and healthy employees will result in increased productivity and overall organizational success. It is everyone’s duty and responsibility to encourage and promote a wellness culture. Perpetual investment in creating a healthy and fit team of employees will positively impact all aspects of law enforcement operations.
Isabelle Sauve is a 10 year OPP veteran currently with the Emergency Response Team (ERT) at the Almaguin Highlands Detachment in Burks Falls, about 300 km north of Toronto. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.