Vol. 80, No. 1Health and wellness

Man running on a mountain trail.

Add up the benefits of exercise

Strategy encourages employees to get moving

Cst. Kevin Barata, an ultra-marathoner, started running to get back into shape and achieve his career goals. Credit: Courtesy of Cst. Kevin Barata, RCMP

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Growing up, Cst. Kevin Barata was always active and fit. When he joined the RCMP, he came out of Depot, the RCMP's training academy, at the peak of his fitness. But with the start of a new job, moving to a new province and a new marriage, Barata let exercise fall to the bottom of his priorities.

While on a call, Barata saw the RCMP's Vancouver Island Emergency Response Team (ERT) in action. It changed the course of his career.

"When I joined the RCMP, I didn't even know what ERT was," says Barata. "After seeing ERT come out, I thought, 'Man, that looks like something I want to do.' "

Barata realized he wasn't in the physical shape he needed to be to join the elite team. But instead of giving up, he started running.

"At first, I would run around my house, three kilometres at a time," says Barata. "It was a sense of accomplishment because I wasn't really a runner before."

Motivated to move

Before long, Barata was doing 10-kilometre races. It was around this time that he started part-time at the ERT, and when he transferred to the Lower Mainland, he joined the Lower Mainland ERT full-time.

"I was surrounded by these guys who are all super fit and very healthy," says Barata. "It's very motivating to be in that environment."

He signed up for a half marathon and just kept running. Barata is now an ultra-marathon runner, with several long-distance races under his belt, including one just shy of 200 kilometres.

For the RCMP and other police agencies, physical fitness is a priority, especially for police officers who have fitness-for-duty requirements.

In 2017, the RCMP launched a three-year National Fitness Strategy. Gaëtan Girard, the national program manager for the RCMP's Organizational Health and Well-being Directorate, along with fitness advisors, are implementing the strategy with the message, "Exercise more, eat better and sleep well."

The main objective is to support police officer fitness for duty and employee well-being.

"Many of the jobs we have, whether it's police officers, civilian members or public service employees, involves a lot of sitting," says Girard. "Prolonged periods of sitting during the day — more than five or six hours — is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. So we're trying to get people moving throughout the day and to exercise on a regular basis."

Girard says the best way to be successful and stick to a fitness regimen is to enjoy what you're doing.

"If you like running, run," says Girard. "But if you don't, please find something else that will get you out there and will keep you healthy and prepared for the demands of your job."

The fitness advantage

The RCMP holds an annual fitness challenge, which supports and encourages employees to become more active. Participant feedback has confirmed that the challenge helped them be more active, lose weight, improve their sleep and contributed to their mental health.

"Fitness has been shown to also help reduce risk of injuries, and when injuries occur, to speed up recovery," says Girard. "Physical activity comes with a proven guarantee: add up the minutes and you'll be adding up the benefits."

Terri Germaine, a security analyst with the RCMP, has credited exercise with improving her life.

For years, Germaine smoked and had poor eating and drinking habits. The physical and mental effects of those behaviours started to take root and she became depressed. She avoided going out in public while she was pregnant for fear of being judged and still looks back at herself on her wedding day with a critical eye.

But since becoming a mother, she made some changes in her life. One of them was exercise. When she started to work for the RCMP, she took advantage of the gym and fitness classes at Depot.

"It changed my life," says Germaine. "What I've found by getting into fitness is that it helps in so many areas of life. If you're feeling down or not sleeping well, fitness helps."

Now stronger and more confident, Germaine encourages others to make the change. "I wish I had known that exercise has so many benefits years and years ago," says Germaine.

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