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Idaho State University

ISU Physical Therapy Prepares Future Police for a Healthier Tomorrow

POCATELLO -  Police officers are dying more than 20 years younger than the average population, according to studies. To help combat this, Idaho State University’s Physical Therapy Program is working with new ISU cadets to prepare them for a longer life. The Center for Tactical Performance (CTAP) partners with the ISU Law Enforcement Program to develop safer and more effective ways to train police and promote long-term health.

The idea to create CTAP started with ISU Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate Bailey Vail, whose husband is a Pocatello Police Officer. In 2016, Vail attended an American Physical Therapy Association meeting where she learned about the health problems specific to law enforcement. According to a 2013 article in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience, factors like the dangerous nature of their job, poor diets, erratic sleep patterns and high stress all amount to a 22 year shorter average lifespan for police officers.

“Since my husband was a newer officer at the time, I had a lot of insight on what goes on to train an officer and I didn't feel like the health, wellness and fitness component of their training was adequate to combat the health issues seen in this population,” Vail said. “The meeting really just sparked my interest to come home and do a lot more literature review and dig into the police academy curriculum here in Idaho.”

Vail brought the issue to the attention of ISU Physical Therapy Professor Emeritus Alex Urfer and CTAP was born. For the last two semesters, physical therapy students, Urfer and Physical Therapy Clinical Assistant Professor Derek Gerber have been taking part in the fitness education portion of the police training at ISU. There, they teach the cadets proper weightlifting techniques, cardiovascular fitness and abdominal strengthening among other approaches. As a requirement to graduate the law enforcement program, cadets must pass a physical readiness test which consists of a vertical jump, push-ups, sit-ups, a 300 meter sprint and a mile-and-a-half run.

“We’re there to inform and observe to make sure they are not doing anything dangerously,” said Gerber. “Some of the cadets get sore and might obtain overuse injuries from the exercises they may not be quite ready for, or used to. These situations also give physical therapy students experience treating athletes.”

According to Gerber, CTAP’s goal isn’t to simply get the cadets to pass the physical readiness test, it’s also to inspire them to make healthy lifestyle changes.

“If you think about it, a normal police officer pursuit probably lasts about a minute, but within that minute a lot of physical injuries occur. When your job requires you to go from sitting in a car to suddenly chasing after someone, you need to be physically capable of doing that,” said Gerber.

To inspire the cadets to make these lifestyle changes, CTAP takes them to ISU’s anatomy lab where they can witness first-hand what could happen to their bodies if they don’t take care of themselves. As examples, cadets view enlarged hearts caused by heart disease and bad livers caused by excessive fat accumulation.

“It was a very eye opening experience for them and it also helped them visualize what the body is all about,” said Gerber.

With only two semesters under CTAP’s belt thus far, the program is already seeing some major progress with cadets. For the first time ever, the ISU Law Enforcement Program has had two classes in a row with a 100 percent pass rate for the required physical readiness test. As for the ISU graduate who started this program, she believes the benefits will follow the cadets throughout their careers.

I have been able to follow up with some of the cadets from our first class and one of them has gone on to lose 40 pounds,” said Vail. “We are still really early on in the process of designing the CTAP program, but I think one of the biggest impacts we have been able to have early on is that the cadets are leaving with a true understanding of why health, wellness and physical fitness are so important in a law enforcement officer’s life.”

CTAP will begin training the new class of cadets in August of 2017 and hopes to offer this program indefinitely.

Written by: Scarlett Smith