Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Physical Fitness and the Private Investigator

After several days of scouring the Internet, I’ve found only one source that even mentions health and private investigators on the same page: The Alberta Occupational Profiles page lists "physical fitness" as one of the personal characteristics of a Private Investigator. Why is it that no one ever discusses health and fitness in the context of the work we do?

Hours of surveillance are the bane of fitness. We sit, we wait, we eat, and we watch, all the while slowly racking up pounds on top of pounds. Here’s a little tip for the working PI: make time for exercise, and eat healthy foods. It's that simple.

Exercise - Make a Plan

We here at [FIND] Investigations make it a priority to maintain at least a baseline level of fitness. We provide the space and encourage our staff to take the time to get some exercise at least five days a week. Some of us work out together. Others take their own time to get in a quick walk or run.

No single exercise regimen is right for everyone. The "get in shape real fast" approach is a sure-fire way to derail your good intentions with an injury, especially if you're over 35 and not exactly Lance Armstrong. Be realistic about your abilities and limitations -- age, physical condition, health issues, weight -- and plan your climb to fitness accordingly. Haven't run a mile in ten years? Go for a walk, increasing distance and speed gradually. Multiple knee surgeries in your past? Try swimming or biking. I’ll make the assumption that you are smart enough to check in with your doctor prior to starting any exercise plan. 

I know, I know…it’s hard enough to find the time to eat a decent meal, much less trek over to the gym and pump some iron. But really, it's not about time. People find time for what matters most to them. The issue is energy and motivation: how to heave tired butt out of chair in the first place. There's no easy way to do that, but we've found a trick that seems to help: make exercise into a treat. An indulgence, even. 

If what you love most is time with the kids, then why not shoot hoops with them, or take them for a long hike in the woods? Or if you're a competitive type, how about putting together a pickup basketball game or tennis tournament with some equally competitive PI buddies? Try taking your significant other on a romantic bike ride/picnic in the park. (See below for the positive effects of exercise on romance.) Sign up for a race to motivate your weekly mile count (such as the Warrior Dash, an insane-looking, mud-soaked obstacle course a couple of us are planning to run next month).

The best kept secret in the world of fitness is that you don’t need to join a gym. There’s really no need for expensive equipment. You don’t even have to run out and buy a pair of dumbbells. You just need a little space, and about an hour. And a workout partner can help with motivation and accountability.

A few of us at [FIND] are about three weeks into one of the commercial DVD workout programs, a six-day-a-week regimen of simple body weight exercises and cardio. We've already noticed a huge difference in energy, strength and stamina. And it's actually been fun to work out together and measure our progress.

But you don't have to go out and buy a DVD set. Remember high school PE class? Basketball practice? Armed services boot camp? Calisthenics? The 45-minute workouts come straight out of those playbooks, because they work. Try to do each one for just 30 seconds apiece, and you'll see what I mean:

Running in place (no need to explain)

Jumping jacks 

Butt kicks

High knees

Mummy kicks

Burpees (squat thrusts, suicide jumps, etc.) 


High plank / Low plank positions



Variations on all of these themes abound. Go online and search for any of these exercises, and you’ll likely be able to find a demo of the proper way to perform the exercise. I’ve included a few links above to get you started. Also, you probably want to mix it up on a daily basis and make sure to take at least one day of total rest to let your body recoup. The addition of some type of cardio to your exercises is also important: road or mountain biking, jogging or running, walking or hiking (find some hills to climb), rowing, or swimming.

Again, you can go online and get countless suggestions for walking, biking, running, or swimming schedules. If you’re out of shape, start with a brisk walk and work your way up to more intense exercises.


The Benefits

Conditioning has so many benefits it’s impossible to make an exhaustive list, but here are a few that relate directly to the work of a PI.

Increased Energy:  It may seem counterintuitive, but we’ve found that when the [FIND] Investigations team is on a set exercise schedule (at least one hour every week day), we are actually able to stay with surveillance for a longer period of time, take on more work, and remained focused.

Stress Reduction:   This profession, while most definitely fun, can produce an excess of stress, both physical and mental. With regular exercise, stress levels are naturally reduced.

Mental Acuity:  Several sources cite increased mental acuity in people who exercise on a regular basis.

Elevated Mood:  Exercise releases endorphins that improve your mood. Some studies show that exercise can help improve mood control in depressed patients. Not to mention that feeling of accomplishment your get when you get your body active and burn some calories.

This next benefit doesn’t necessarily relate to our work, but it certainly adds to quality of life. This is taken directly from the Mayo Clinic’s list of exercise benefits

“Regular physical activity can leave you feeling energized and looking better, which may have a positive effect on your sex life. But there's more to it than that. Regular physical activity can lead to enhanced arousal for women, and men who exercise regularly are less likely to have problems with erectile dysfunction than are men who don't exercise — especially as they get older.”

Increased strength, decreased body fat, better sleep…, the list goes on.


It's easy to live the stereotype: the overweight PI in rumpled suit consuming burgers and chain smoking on surveillance, client meetings over a second piece of pie in a greasy-spoon diner, evenings spent tilting back a few (or more) rounds of Jack with a beer back.

Problem is, the food coma you get in the afternoon after that Big Mac isn't so conducive to alertness, and neither is a hangover. I'm not going to tell you what to eat, but food writer Michael Pollan perhaps says it best: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." 

Final Thoughts

I live in one of the fattest regions of one of the fattest countries on earth. I’ve been fat and out of shape. I am not a crusader for exercise. It’s just that I’ve found that regular exercise and a healthy diet helps me to do my job better and enjoy my life more. I find that my team works better when they’re in shape. I love the idea that for the small investment of a time and effort you can see and feel almost immediate benefits. 


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