Health and wellness in law enforcement
Heidi (Leininger) Begy ’09 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice sciences. She has been a police officer for more than six years and currently works patrol. She has also been a juvenile officer, evidence technician, and a crisis intervention team officer. Begy was a certified group fitness instructor and taught group fitness while at Illinois State. She is a Blue Edge Tactical Fitness ambassador and is being featured in BETACFIT YOGA, a series of yoga guides coming soon. She has also completed two half-marathons and many 5K-15K races.
One of the best decisions I have made in my law enforcement career was when I decided to step back, re-evaluate my lifestyle, and dedicate myself to my health and wellness. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines health as “the condition of being well or free from disease; the overall condition of someone’s body or mind” and wellness as “the quality or state of being healthy.”
Health and wellness go hand in hand, in body and mind. In law enforcement, we are constantly under physical stress and emotional pressure. In any given moment, your situation can spin 180 degrees without notice and you need to be prepared.
Physical fitness is a key component to being healthy. Not only does it benefit the body, but it can also prevent injury, help with officer presence, and reduce stress. In law enforcement, we depend on our bodies. People generally respect an officer more and will think twice about challenging one if he or she looks fit for duty.
However, good officer presence does not solve everything. We need to be ready for what may come up in the day, whether that is sprinting after a fleeing suspect, pulling someone out of harm’s way, or subduing an arrestee. We can’t afford to get injured. We have an obligation to our communities, our coworkers, and most importantly ourselves.
Health and wellness is more than just physical fitness, though; it’s mental and emotional well-being, too. Good lifestyle habits are imperative to being a well-rounded individual, and when you’re involved in a stressful career like law enforcement, good habits are that much more important to practice. It may be tempting to create poor habits like ordering take-out daily with coworkers or kicking back a few drinks after shift, but we need to hold ourselves and each other accountable.
Like it states in the article, “Encourage Your Shift,” by Blue Edge Tactical Fitness, “You are your environment. If you surround yourself with terrible food, poor attitudes, and lost ambition, you’ll eventually fade into a dark background filled with health issues and potential risks on the job.”
So, how can you avoid falling into those bad habits? A well-rounded fitness program will be different for every individual. Personally, I’m thankful to have supportive friends and family. I have found living a healthy lifestyle is easier and more fun with moral support. For me, I love to go running with my cousin. Running is a great way to blow off steam after shift instead of cracking open a six-pack.
I like organizing 5K races with my co-workers, too. Races are a great way to create stronger bonds – and a little friendly competition never hurt anyone! I also enjoy taking hot yoga with my sister. Yoga teaches focus on breathing, which I find very helpful at work during high stress situations, and it improves strength and flexibility.
At home, I enjoy grilling outside with my husband. Grilling is an easy way to keep meals healthy and delicious, while keeping us accountable for what we’re consuming. All of these activities give me a chance to keep myself in physical shape, give me a mental release, and help me to maintain an emotional balance.
If you find yourself struggling for ideas or motivation, I also find a lot of inspiration online, like at betacticalfitness.com. Really, there is no good excuse for complacency. Health and wellness in law enforcement is way too important. Please, don’t take it for granted.