A University of Iowa research study recently examined the physical activity level of police officers in the United States. The study found the on-duty activity level of officers to be low and further linked the sedentary nature of police work and the stress of the job to increased health risks. The following article is the first in a series outlining what some police officers are doing to reduce these risks and stay healthy.
A police officer's job is tough. Long hours combined with tragic and dangerous situations can have a significant effect on someone's personal life. Add shift work into the mix — working nights followed by a day in court and a poor diet — and fitness and health suffer. Working in investigative branches also has its share of obstacles to wellness. Long hours of reviewing and documenting case files contributes to the sedentary nature of the job.
That's where the Toronto Police Amateur Athletic Association (TPAAA) steps in to ensure mind and body are on the same page by promoting physical fitness and overall wellness to officers.
The TPAAA encourages members to take anxiety and frustration out at the gym or on the field through organized sports in station/unit fitness facilities and most recently through the Toronto Police Insanity Fitness Challenge.
This past March, the TPAAA teamed up with Beachbody, the creators of popular at-home fitness and weight loss programs in the U.S., including Insanity.
At the time, TPAAA members were working out in their station gyms, going through the motions on the treadmill or elliptical, but didn't have an organized fitness program, outside of sports, to keep officers motivated and encourage them to get active. With Beachbody, the TPAAA challenged its members to set goals and complete 60 days of the challenging Insanity workout on DVD, competing as teams for the best results.
Notoriously hard, the Insanity Fitness Challenge is a total-body conditioning program — a combination of plyometric drills and nonstop intervals of strength, power, resistance and ab and core training moves. Shaun T, the creator and trainer of the program, has participants performing long bursts of maximum-intensity exercises with short periods of rest. Participants burned up to 1,000 calories in one hour.
A handful of TPAAA members had tried Insanity, but only one or two had ever completed the 56 workouts and five fit tests in the 60-day timeline.
The TPAAA initially projected 130 participants, but there was such great interest, 225 officers from stations across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) signed up.
There was a real sense of team spirit and camaraderie thanks to officers who made the challenge fun and kept their teams on track. Social media was a big part of that. Beachbody created a private Facebook group for participants to share their team's progress, inspirational quotes and photos. Two teams even created Insanity-themed videos to motivate the group.
To ensure officers were working out safely, Beachbody arranged team workouts with coaches. The coaches visited the stations and offered tips to modify exercises, and provided advice on nutrition and overall encouragement. The coaches also had access to the Facebook page and they were always motivating the teams to "dig deeper!"
Not all stations had their own fitness facilities but that didn't stop these teams. Each officer received their own copy of the DVD and when they couldn't work out with their team, they worked out at home or on the road, some even getting their workouts done in hotel rooms when travelling.
The Insanity Fitness Challenge became a way for officers to hold themselves and their teammates accountable. Some officers wanted to lose weight, some wanted to increase their strength and others simply just needed the extra motivation that a competition provides. The officer who lost the most weight dropped 29 pounds.
But Joel Houston, an officer with the Toronto Police Service (TPS) Mounted Unit, saw the best physical transformation. He lost seven pounds in total but gained a sculpted, defined body.
"This past winter I found it more and more difficult to make the time for my workouts and my fitness level suffered because of it," explained Houston. "Insanity had the perfect combination of workout and team atmosphere to get me motivated to succeed. Thanks to the challenge, my fitness regime is back on track to take on the challenges I've set for myself this summer."
For Officer Brandon Reeve, the workouts didn't stop after the challenge ended. He has since moved on to another program. Reeve lost 26 pounds on Insanity and has lost 10 more since starting his new workouts.
Five years ago, Reeve suffered a serious knee injury, which was the start of a steady decline in his fitness level.
"When I started the Insanity challenge, I hoped that it would be the push I needed to start my journey back to a healthy lifestyle," says Reeve. "After completing Insanity, I can say that it definitely did that and then some. It was definitely hard and there were times that I thought I wasn't going to make it. But I kept going, and, most importantly, I kept pushing play. To me, that became a fitting analogy for life. Life is hard at times; it's not always easy, but you need to just wake up every morning and push play. You will get through it. You will reach your goals!"
Ninety-five Toronto Police officers officially completed the 60-day fitness challenge and collectively lost 806 pounds — a huge accomplishment that also gave back to the community.
For each team that completed the challenge, Beachbody donated $250 to the Toronto Police Widows and Orphans Funds. A total of $3,500 was raised. The winning teams also received a Beachbody DVD library to continue their fitness journey, plus a TV and DVD player for their station to help them continue to work out as a team.
The TPAAA will most definitely consider making this fitness challenge an annual event. Any effort that can be put towards assisting its members with their fitness and wellness is a win-win for the organization and for TPS members. The Insanity Fitness Challenge contributed to what the TPAAA strives for: building on the team aspect of police work and encouraging a healthy and fit lifestyle for all its members.
The Toronto Police Amateur Athletic Association was formed in 1881 to promote fitness and camaraderie among members of the TPS. Membership in the TPAAA is open to active and retired, civilian and uniform members of the TPS. Members work in the community in support of the TPS community enrichment initiatives.