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Exercise is not an anti-fatigue 'drug'

Should you work out when you’re fatigued, using exercise as a “drug” to overcome tiredness?

Two physicians issued cautionary words about that practice during a panel discussion of fatigue and police safety at the latest IACP annual conference.

Dr. Kerry Kuehl, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Oregon Health and Science University, and Dr. Charles Samuels, medical director of the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance at Canada’s University of Calgary, advised that you should be well rested when you exercise. Otherwise, you may incur even more sleep deprivation and other damage to your health.

Samuels, who works closely with Calgary Police Service on fitness training, elaborated in an email interview with PoliceOne.

“Exercise produces its maximum benefit and effect on strength and endurance on a fully rested body,” he says. “Shift workers are by definition sleep-deprived for the most part, so a workout should be done after an officer has recovered his or her sleep debt and is fully rested. Workouts should not be planned to simply ‘make sure to get it in,’ as this is not the most efficient or effective use of gym time.

“Using exercise as a fatigue countermeasure can be effective but can have negative consequences if it becomes a chronic routine. This will eventually produce an over-trained state, which can result in higher frequencies of upper respiratory tract infections (colds) and poor injury recovery, muscle stiffness and pain, increased training fatigue, and longer recovery times after high-intensity, high-volume training.”

Dr. Bill Lewinski of the Force Science Institute, who has an extensive background in martial arts and police fitness, agrees that habitually exercising — particularly at an intense level — when fatigued carries potential health risks. But he recommends modifying your routine rather than skipping the gym altogether when you’re tired.

“Are cops ever really rested?” he asks. “It’s helpful to have a variety of workouts, and when you’re tired, use mild, maintenance-level exercise. Even at a low level of intensity, working out can produce chemical changes in your body that will enhance your sense of empowerment and self-esteem.

“When you’re feeling under stress — even the unusual stress of a critical incident — a mild-to-moderate workout can be therapeutic and help in your recovery. It’s when you work out too intensely in an over-stressed or unrested state that you’re most likely to create problems.”

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