OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. — Death, deployment, facing the consequences of a failed Physical Fitness Assessment, all can be stressful factors for military members and they can compound without a strategy to address them.
Besides taking full advantage of the various helping agencies on base, an important factor to remember is that Brief, consistent exercises throughout the day can have positive effects on weight control, health, mood, energy, sleep and attention.
The often dreaded PT test has evoked anxiety in Airmen since 1947, with recent changes leading to more stringent PFA standards in 2012. The PFA was designed to promote military readiness, ensuring military members are physically capable of completing the Air Force’s mission at any point in time. Significant consequences can result from failure to maintain this physical standard, ranging from mandatory enrollment in healthy behavior or fitness classes, referral performance ratings and even involuntary separation. Failure rates have varied across the years, with rates upwards of 20 percent.
A heavy emphasis has been placed on health factors affecting Service member’s ability to pass the PFA. The nation as a whole has allocated more research and funding than ever before to target obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Recent data shows approximately eight percent of military members currently meet criteria for being clinically overweight. This is a rise from 2001, with only 1.6 percent of members identified as obese. The Tobacco, Obesity and Alcohol study estimated that obesity and illnesses related to being overweight accounted for more than $1.1 billion spent on medical care for Tricare Prime beneficiaries.
With the inclusion of the waist tape measurement and a correlation between slowed run time and increased body mass index, weight has played an increasingly important factor in Airmen successfully passing their annual or biannual fitness tests. It is common sense the more consistent a member is in exercising and practicing for a PFA, the more likely that individual is to pass the PFA. However, the chronic demands of active duty, high tempo operations, and balance between duty and family time can hinder one’s ability and motivation to exercise during personal time on a consistent basis. The Air Force as a whole has made efforts to promote fitness through the development of CAF days, Squadron/Flight PT, and allowing for personal PT time during duty hours. Again, while these efforts are a step in a healthy direction, members continue to struggle with weight, consistent exercise and failed PFA’s.
One strategy to promote a culture of fitness in Airmen’s daily lives is participation in brief exercises throughout the duty day. It is often believed one must engage in 30 or more strenuous minutes of exercise to have any effect; however, this belief is untrue.
“Every day in the clinic, we do a 2 – 2.5 minute plank, all the while playing the alphabet game, a fun activity that serves to keep us distracted / entertained throughout the constant burning of our abdomens,” said Airman 1st Class Raul Rivera-Garcia, 55th Medical Operations Squadron. “Once the timer runs out, we groove right into the push-up routine. At least 20 of them should keep you at par for the day. See, not only is this routine meant to keep us physically active on a daily basis but it is also designed to boost morale, which is both well needed and appreciated by us ‘cubicle medics.’”
The incorporation of exercises can promote a sense of community among service members, normalizing the occasional aversion to exercise, but reflecting on the fact ‘we are all in this together.’
“On the nightshift, we will get out of our chairs, away from our desks, and do sit-ups or push-ups,” said Senior Airman Amber Schubert, U.S. Strategic Command. “It can help keep us awake on the night shift and in shape for those portions of the PT test.”
The exercises used are simple and don’t require a gym, as a matter of fact they can be done practically anywhere.
“While on alert, I do pullups on the hour during an eight hour shift while stuck on the plane,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Strong, 1st Airborne Command and Control Squadron.
“Every hour we draw two cards from a deck and each number represents the number of push-ups or air squats the whole office does together,” said Tech. Sgt. Clinton Pattison, 55th Security Forces Squadron. “Also, a deck is left on the desk and any visitor who asks about the cards are encouraged to draw two – they are then compelled to exercise with the group.”
To have a successful ‘a culture of fitness’ implementation, leadership at all levels will need to show their support not only with guidance but also participation.
“Before roll call on Fridays, we will do pushups with leadership when they came in to the room,” said Staff Sgt. Jordan, 97th Intelligence Squadron.
“On Friday afternoons we do a brief Beach Body workout,” said Tech. Sgt. Carrie Holton, 55th Medical Group. “Just to relax at the end of the work week and have fun while you do it.”
Making the program work might involve more than just making it fun, some people crave competition.
“In the past, members have awarded the ‘Record Holder’ title for the individual who wins the most pull-ups/dips/push-ups challenge in our unit,” said Staff Sgt. Ashley, 97th Intelligence Squadron.
“Having a ping pong table in our break has led to a healthy competition among coworkers while allowing us to break a sweat and get in a good amount of cardio in at work,” Airman 1st Class Zachary Tomczyk 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
As fitness becomes a normal part of life for everyone in your group, don’t be afraid to test your limits.
“My team normally has done relays together and training runs,” said Master Sgt. Denise Hicks, 55th Medical Support Squadron. “We started off with the Papillion Half last year and got crazy and did the Market to Market Relay in 2015. We enjoyed it so much, we did the Trifecta in 2016.”
“We work on finding a race and all working toward it together,” Hicks added.
The American Heart Association has recommended 150 minutes per week of activity to maintain a stable weight and prevent the development of numerous chronic health problems. Military members are held to rigorous duty demands that can make it difficult to engage in 150 minutes of exercise and maintain the demanding fitness standards of the USAF. The incorporation of brief exercises to facilitate a day-to-day culture of fitness can provide Airmen the tools to not only maintain reliability, but to alter habits and promote a healthy lifestyle.