Background. Job stress is one of the leading sources of stress in America. Fatigue, depression, burnout, low job satisfaction, and heart disease are a few of the many health consequences of chronic stress. Individuals in high stress occupations, such as law enforcement officers and critical care nurses, need effective methods of coping with stress. Although exercise is a known coping strategy, it is not clear how overall physical fitness relates to stress.
Purpose. The purpose of this research study was to examine how law enforcement officer’s physical fitness level, as defined by the five components of fitness, relates to their perceived stress, and to determine the validity and internal reliability of the Law Enforcement Officer Stress Survey (LEOSS).
Method. This was an observational, cross-sectional study of a sample of 106 law enforcement officers. Stress was measured using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10) (Cohen & Williamson, 1988). Overall physical fitness was measured using indicators of the five American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)-determined components of fitness: (1) a 3-minute step test to predict VO2max (cardiorespiratory component); (2) hand-grip, leg and back dynamometer tests to measure muscular strength; (3) a push-up test to measure muscular endurance; (4) a sit-and-reach test to measure flexibility; and (5) bioelectrical impedance to measure body composition. Law enforcement officer situational stress was measured using the LEOSS. Demographic and job-related variables were assessed via self-report.
Results. Participants revealed lower self-reported stress levels on the PSS-10 (M = 10.72, SD = 5.2) than the general population (M = 12.0, SD = 5.8). The LEOSS was positively associated (r = 0.213, p < .05) with the PSS-10, especially the subscale Family and Personal Stressors (r = 0.343, p < .01). Internal reliability of the LEOSS was high (α = 0.913). There were no statistically significant correlations between PSS-10, or LEOSS and any of the five physical fitness variables or between PSS-10 and a total physical fitness score. There were significant correlations among all physical fitness variables.
Implications for preventive care. This study determined that physical fitness was not associated with perceived stress in the sample of law enforcement officers studied. It also showed the extent to which the perceived frequency and difficulty of law enforcement situations, as measured by the LEOSS, are associated with increased stress in a law enforcement population. Once a valid and reliable source of measuring stress is identified, this additional knowledge will help preventive care specialists know how to best design, market, and implement stress management programs to meet the needs of the law enforcement population.