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Stress and Health Risk Reduction in Correctional Officers: Employees in the experimental group demonstrated significant reductions in stress and health risk factors, as well as significant improvements in work-related parameters. Physiological changes in the experimental group included significant reductions in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol levels, the total cholesterol/HDL ratio, fasting glucose levels, mean heart rate, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Psychological changes included significant reductions in overall psychological distress, anger, fatigue, hostility, interpersonal sensitivity, speed and impatience, and global Type A behavior, and increases in gratitude and positive outlook. There were also improvements in key organizationally relevant measures, including significant increases in productivity, motivation, goal clarity, and perceived manager support. The reduction in health risk factors achieved in this study are projected to lead to reductions in both health care and absentee costs, yielding a total

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Impact of the Power to Change Performance Program on Stress and Health Risks in Correctional Officers

Rollin McCraty, Ph.D.*, Mike Atkinson*, Lee Lipsenthal, M.D.*, and Lourdes Arguelles, Ph.D.**
*HeartMath Research Center, Institute of HeartMath, Boulder Creek, CA
**Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA
HeartMath Research Center, Institute of HeartMath, Report No. 03-014. Boulder Creek, CA, November 2003.



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Summary

This study investigated the impact of HeartMath’s Power to Change Performance stress and health risk reduction program on physiological and psychological stress and health risk factors in a sample of correctional peace officers. Eighty-eight officers from three facilities were randomized to an experimental group and a wait-list control group. The experimental group participated in the stress and health risk reduction program, which was delivered over two consecutive days. The program included instruction on health risk factors as well as training in positive emotion-focused stress reduction techniques intended to reduce negative emotional arousal, improve physiological balance, increase positive affect, and enhance performance. Learning and practice of the techniques was enhanced by heart rate variability feedback, which helped participants learn to self-generate physiological coherence, a beneficial mode associated with increased efficiency and synchronization in the functioning of physiological systems. Measures of physiological and psychological stress and health risk were assessed before the program and again 3 months afterward. The measures included in the health risk assessment were the Personal Wellness Profile self-report survey, which assesses a broad range of health-related information, behaviors, and attitudes; and four biometric markers: height, weight, blood pressure, and total cholesterol levels. Additional measures reflective of physiological stress and overall health included cortisol and DHEA, secretory immunoglobulin A (an immune system marker), HDL and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose levels, a 10-minute resting electrocardiogram, and measures of heart rate variability (an indicator of autonomic function). Three self-report psychological surveys were also included to assess emotional stress and work-related variables.


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An analysis of baseline data revealed that officers in this study were under greater stress and at greater health risk in comparison to a reference sample of working adults. A within-group analysis of pre-post changes showed that 3 months after the intervention program, employees in the experimental group demonstrated significant reductions in stress and health risk factors, as well as significant improvements in work-related parameters. Physiological changes in the experimental group included significant reductions in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol levels, the total cholesterol/HDL ratio, fasting glucose levels, mean heart rate, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Psychological changes included significant reductions in overall psychological distress, anger, fatigue, hostility, interpersonal sensitivity, speed and impatience, and global Type A behavior, and increases in gratitude and positive outlook. There were also improvements in key organizationally relevant measures in the experimental group after the program, including significant increases in productivity, motivation, goal clarity, and perceived manager support. Finally, the reduction in health risk factors achieved in this study are projected to lead to reductions in both health care and absentee costs, yielding a total projected annual cost savings of $699 per employee.


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In conclusion, the results of this study indicate that the Power to Change Performance program was effective in significantly reducing stress and health risk factors in a population of correctional peace officers, while enhancing employee productivity and psychological well-being. These changes were realized with minimal intervention and in a relatively brief period of time, and should result in significant cost savings to the organization if the program is expanded to larger employee populations. Thus, by reducing the physiological, psychological, performance-related, and financial impact of high stress and health risks in the crucial and demanding profession of corrections work, this program promises significant benefits both to the employees as individuals and to the organization as a whole.


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