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4 Studies Highlight Why Your Physical Fitness Matters

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A recent online research roundup published by the National Strength & Conditioning Assn. adds to the ever-growing evidence that physical fitness matters in practical ways to public safety personnel.

The report is included in the group’s quarterly journal, Tactical Strength & Conditioning, and was compiled by Dr. Rod Pope, associate professor of physiotherapy at Bond University in Australia and an expert on military injury and preventive training.

Among studies cited by Pope are these:

SEDENTARY TOLL

Researchers studied 67 male and 70 female recruits at an overseas academy where sedentary learning apparently was the order of the day. Their height, weight, muscle strength, and muscular endurance were measured at entrance and again after eight months of academic work. During the interval, the recruits received no organized physical training.

The unsurprising result: a “significant” increase in average BMI and marked decreases in horizontal and vertical jumping ability and hand-grip strength. The changes ranged as high as 7%.

Such deterioration “is likely to increase risks in later training” and possibly on the street too, Pope notes. The findings were “a useful reminder of the perils of filling the time of tactical personnel with academic activities and other sedentary duties that impede their engagement in regular physical training,” which is “vital…for their occupational role.”

MARKED IMPROVEMENTS

On the other hand, a research group that studied 55 recruits at a university-based police academy in the US documented strong positive benefits from just modest exposure to physical workouts.

The participants were tested to establish a fitness baseline, then retested after eight weeks and 16 weeks of one-hour, three-times-a-week physical training sessions that included “aerobic training, plyometric training, bodyweight training, and resistance training exercises.”

“[S]ignificant, measured improvements [were noted] in agility, upper-body and lower-body peak power, sit-ups and push-ups” and these enhancements sustained across the 16-week period.

“However,” Pope points out, “no significant improvements in any of the fitness measures occurred between the eight-week and 16-week time points, suggesting that cadets were not physically challenged in the last eight weeks of the program.

“Valuably, these results provide a reminder that regular assessment of fitness gains is important in tactical physical training programs to…ensure that training goals are being achieved and identify opportunities to enhance the training outcomes by program modification, where needed.”

FITNESS & INJURY

A study of fitness level and likelihood of injury in firefighters may be relevant to the police world as well.

Some 800 career fire service employees were tested for cardiovascular health, muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, and body composition and then grouped as having high, medium, or low levels of fitness.

Firefighters in the low-level category “were nearly twice as likely to report an injury” within the five-year study period as those in the high-fit level, Pope reports. “When sprains and strains were examined separately, the difference in injury rates between ‘less fit’ and ‘high fit’ categories…increased nearly threefold.”

FITNESS & AGING

Finally, about 500 US wildland firefighters were surveyed regarding years of service and the likelihood of being “diagnosed with a range of health conditions or requiring orthopedic surgery.”

Results: The odds of subjects having high blood pressure were more than four times greater in those with 10-20 years’ service than in those with less than 10 years, and five times greater in those with over 20 years on the job. Similar trends were noted regarding elevated cholesterol levels, heart arrhythmias, and the prevalence of wrist/hand or knee surgery.

“Regular aerobic exercise, reduction of time spent each day in sedentary activities, dietary habits that promote heart health,” and exercise that helps strengthen muscles around joints may help overcome these disparities, Pope suggests, although he admits that “these recommendations can be challenging to consistently implement” on a daily basis. Challenging, but worth the effort!

Our thanks to Dr. Robert Pettitt, professor of exercise science & physiology at Minnesota State U.-Mankato, for alerting us to Dr. Pope’s compilation.

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