The nature of police work requires that officers remain physically fit, not just to avoid disease and other pitfalls of aging, but to withstand the rigors of uniformed patrol. It takes strength and agility to pursue suspects on foot or subdue a violent perpetrator. For these reasons, it is paramount that cops take care of themselves. On routine patrol, however, it is difficult to make the choices necessary to stay in shape.
Police officers eat in fast food restaurants, drink a lot of coffee and sugary beverages, and smoke cigarettes. Cops spend long hours in a sector car, or perform lengthy observations and that equals a lack of exercise. This routine is not conducive to healthy living and eventually makes the job harder. A physically fit officer has the energy to make arrests and is able to defend themselves more easily than a cop who is out of shape. Officers do not set out to become overweight and less active, but the nature of their work often leads to this.
In the course of an eight hour tour of duty, an officer will have at least one meal period. Food choices in many neighborhoods consist of mostly fast food eateries or small restaurants. The quality of the food can be poor, at best. Fatty burgers, take out dinners, and other greasy dishes eaten on a regular basis take their toll. The best an officer can do is to bring their own lunch from home. It is difficult to “brown bag it” as a cop because the vagaries of the job often dictate that officers make arrests, investigate crime scenes, guard prisoners in the hospital, or engage in dozens of other time-consuming activities. The sandwich or leftovers a cop brings to work can sit in a break room refrigerator or in the back seat of a squad car for many hours. By the time the officer has a chance to eat, their food will be unpalatable. As a result, fast food becomes an unhealthy alternative for most officers of patrol.
So, what are cops to do as they succumb to poor diets and the grind of law enforcement? Quitting smoking is a no-brainer; much has been done in recent years in the way of public education to explain the risks associated with tobacco intake. As for eating, officers can still bring healthy food to their precinct if they have a reasonable expectation they will be able to have a meal period during their shift.
In the event that police activity keeps one from away from the station house, opt to eat from the healthier selections on a fast food menu. Many burger chains offer salads or low-calorie wraps which are preferable to burgers and fries. While on patrol, seek out eateries with take-out menus conducive to a proper diet. Drink water instead of coffee or soft drinks, and get out of the squad car and walk when the radio is quiet. Use the stairs when responding to non-emergencies as opposed to the elevator. Many precincts now have gym equipment and officers should take advantage of treadmills or other aerobic machines to maintain stamina for foot pursuits. A gym membership is beneficial as well, and finding fellow officers to work out with will make visits to the gym a social experience.
Police work will always be physically demanding, and officers will continue to suffer the strains of the job. But making an effort to eat healthfully and maintaining a steady workout regimen can help officers maintain their productivity.
About the Author: Michael J. Kannengieser is the author of the police thriller, The Daddy Rock. He is a retired New York City police officer who lives on Long Island with his wife and two children. Michael worked as the Managing Editor for Fiction at The View from Here magazine, a U.K. based literary publication and is a contributor to Criminal Justice News. Currently, he is employed at a performing arts college as an Instructional Technology Administrator. He has been published at The View from Here, and in Newsday, a Long Island newspaper. Michael speaks as a guest lecturer on campus. Click Here to buy a copy of Michael J. Kannengieser's new novel "The Daddy Rock."