How many hours a day do you spend sitting in a squad car, behind a desk, writing reports, in your easy chair at home, or on a stadium bench watching little league? It likely adds up to more than you think. TV shows portray police work as an intense, high-activity profession, but the truth is, there are long periods of little physical activity. Being sedentary may be wreaking havoc with your health.
A lack of physical activity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. It also puts you a risk for diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, poor blood flow and circulation, blood clots, and sleep apnea. Chronic lack of activity also can take a toll on your mental state and put you at higher risk for depression and anxiety.
Technology Is a Contributing Factor
Years ago, police officers routinely derived considerable exercise from patrol. Law enforcement today is technology driven and much more desk-bound. The end result is that today’s police officer burns about as much energy on the job as someone sitting while holding a baby or washing dishes, according to study outcomes.
“Working out vigorously before or after work is great, but according to research, it may not counteract long periods of sitting,” says Kelsey-Seybold heart specialist Jonathan Aliota who is board-certified in Interventional Cardiology. “Extended periods of inactivity can result in high blood pressure, high cholesterol, more body fat, increased fat in the blood, as well as less HDL cholesterol, which is the ‘good’ type of cholesterol.”
Daily Movement Is Necessary
To improve overall cardiovascular health, at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise – or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity – is generally recommended. Thirty minutes a day, five times a week is an easy goal to remember.
“Getting in better physical shape doesn’t necessarily mean training for a marathon. You will also experience benefits even if you divide your time into two or three segments of 10 to 15 minutes a day,” Dr. Aliota pointed out.
Tips for Increasing Physical Activity
Some simple life changes Dr. Aliota suggests officers and their families make are:
- For every 50 minutes you sit, spend 10 minutes moving. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator whenever possible.
- Invest in a pedometer an activity tracker to stay active between workouts, working towards a goal of 10,000 steps daily.
- When watching TV, get up and move around during commercial breaks.
- Walk to a co-workers desk instead of sending an email or a text.
- Start a new hobby such as cycling, running, or swimming. Form a neighborhood walking club.
- Do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week.
- Cross train, which means rotating your exercises between aerobics (walking, running, swimming), strength training (weight lifting) and flexibility and stretching exercises (yoga, pilates, etc.).
“Staying active through exercise that elevates your heart rate and gets your blood pumping will help improve your cardiac wellness,” Dr. Aliota says. “Even slight increases in physical activity can help – so get up, get moving and keep it going!”
Regular exercise lowers blood pressure, raises the levels of “good” cholesterol, and keeps triglyceride levels under control, which can help reduce your chances of a heart attack or stroke.