Focus on Officer Wellness
Importance of a Certified Wellness Coach
By Mario Arriaga, M.S.
Law enforcement is a fulfilling career, but the rewards may come at a high cost. Over time, the stress and trauma of police work can take a toll on physical and mental wellness.1
Nationwide, agencies are recognizing the importance of monitoring officer wellness by creating programs to address it.2 To this end, a certified wellness coach whom department members can rely on for mental and physical health support will help ensure they can effectively and professionally police their community.
To become a police officer, one must complete a physical agility test. This determines if the recruit is physically fit and capable of performing the essential duties of the job. At the academy, new officers learn how important their physical health is throughout their tenure, especially during a physical altercation.3
As officers continue their career, they tend to become complacent with their fitness. Some may still work out but not like they did during training.4 Many departments do not promote physical health or offer sufficient incentives to maintain it. This can be addressed by having an officer readily available within the agency for proper guidance in mental and physical wellness.
Law enforcement is rapidly changing, and more is expected of officers. They constantly go from one call to the next or get stuck on the same call for hours, limiting opportunities to get food. When officers have a chance to eat — if at all — the food choices tend to be unhealthy. In many cases, the only available options are fast or convenience store food, especially during a night shift.
A study on health disparities in police officers compared to the general U.S. population was conducted from 2004 to 2009. This study determined, among other related health issues, that 40% of officers were obese, compared to 32% of their civilian counterparts. Further, 25% of officers demonstrated signs of metabolic syndrome, compared to approximately 19% of the general population.5
Many officers care about their health, fitness, and weight.6 However, they usually do not have the proper guidance, time management, or an adequate nutritional plan. Using internet search engines to educate themselves yields abundant information. Consequently, this can be overwhelming, and officers still may not know what to do.
Police officers are rightfully under the spotlight more than individuals in other professions. Yet, some people forget officers are also humans who make mistakes like anyone else. They are trained to go toward gunfire, investigate deaths, and, unfortunately, take a life to protect themselves or others. Officers are also exposed to extreme traumatic events, to include natural disasters and mass shootings. As a result of these exposures, they can have a variety of adverse reactions, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).7
When faced with their own crises, either because of these exposures or for personal reasons, police officers can find it difficult to ask for help.8 They are taught and trained to be strong but often not how to receive mental help if needed. Who can officers trust to get professional guidance on their mental or physical wellness or nutrition? A certified wellness coach at their agency is a major step forward.
“ … [A] certified wellness coach whom department members can rely on for mental and physical health support will help ensure they can effectively and professionally police their community.”
Police departments can improve their overall well-being by enabling officers to become a certified wellness coach, so all members of the agency have someone readily available to trust. On-site wellness coaches offer many physical and mental health benefits for officers.
- Decrease work-related injuries and stress
- Increase overall department morale
- Set personalized health goals9
- Offer stress management techniques10
- Improve energy11
- Make officers accountable in meeting goals
- Design nutritional plans and workout regimens
- Serve as a liaison or offer guidance for mental health
To become a certified wellness coach, an officer would attend a recognized training program. The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching was established to create an industry standard as well as a national certification for health and wellness coaching education.12 It also accredits many online and in-person schools and training programs for wellness coaching. Depending on the chosen program, it could take a few months to be certified, at the officer’s pace, at a cost of approximately $1,800 to $3,500.13
Police departments must ensure their officers are both physically and mentally healthy throughout their careers. Officers can easily become overwhelmed trying to get help themselves. Therefore, agencies must give them the tools to succeed.
A step in the right direction is to facilitate training for an officer(s) to become a certified wellness coach. Having one on-site offers many benefits and gives others at the department the ability to rely on a peer for the right health guidance.
“Police departments can improve their overall well-being by enabling officers to become a certified wellness coach, so all members of the agency have someone readily available to trust.”
Chief Arriaga heads the Plainfield, Connecticut, Police Department and is a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 281. He can be reached at email@example.com.
1 Police Executive Research Forum, Building and Sustaining an Officer Wellness Program: Lessons from the San Diego Police Department (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2018), https://www.policeforum.org/assets/SanDiegoOSW.pdf.
3 Mike Bell, “Implementing Physical Fitness Standards and Training in Law Enforcement” (paper, Criminal Justice Institute School of Law Enforcement Supervision, Session 28), https://www.cji.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/fitnessprogram5.pdf.
5 Tara Hartley et al., “Health Disparities in Police Officers: Comparisons to the U.S. General Population,” International Journal of Emergency Mental Health 13, no. 4 (2011): 211-220, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4734372/pdf/nihms742875.pdf.
6 Justin Wilkerson, “Educating Law Enforcement Agencies on Nutrition and Fitness” (white paper, Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas, June 2018), https://shsu-ir.tdl.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11875/2494/1805.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
7 Cheryl Regehr, “A Systematic Review of Mental Health Symptoms in Police Officers Following Extreme Traumatic Exposures,” Police Practice and Research 22, no. 1 (2021): 225-239, https://doi.org/10.1080/15614263.2019.1689129.
9 Nina Zorfass, “What Is a Health and Wellness Coach?” Institute for Integrated Nutrition, last updated August 24, 2022, https://www.integrativenutrition.com/blog/what-is-a-wellness-coach-everything-you-need-to-know.