Officials may change Air Force fitness program

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. A.J. Bosker
  • Air Force Print News
Air Force health officials are proposing a change to the service's fitness program to help airmen place a greater emphasis on their overall health and well-being.

Many airmen incorrectly think that the Air Force fitness program is cycle ergometry, according to Maj. Lisa Schmidt, chief of health promotion operations in the Air Force surgeon general's office at Bolling Air Force Base, D.C.

"The Air Force fitness program isn't about the bike test," Schmidt said. "The fitness program is about eating healthy and exercising three to five times each week. The bike is just a tool we use to measure the effect of a personal fitness program."

According to Schmidt, the goal of the program is to encourage a mindset change in all airmen toward adopting a more proactive and preventive approach to health and fitness, thereby increasing the focus on personal readiness and not just passing a test.

Health officials are examining how they can align the Weight Management Program and the cycle ergometry evaluation together to make it a more comprehensive assessment of someone's health. This assessment will use a composite score to get an overall picture of an airman's health risk.

This change has been incorporated into "WarFit," a test program started at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., in February and at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., in May. The program will start Air Force Space Command-wide in January.

Health experts from the Air Force surgeon general's office, the clinical operations division of AFSPC's surgeon general office, and the health and wellness center at F.E. Warren AFB, along with physiology and human performance experts from Brooks City-Base in San Antonio helped outline the prevention-based program.

"We chose to base fitness-program evaluations on health risk assessments," said Col. Jon R. Pearse, 90th Medical Group commander at F.E. Warren AFB.

According to Pearse, aerobic fitness, body fat and muscular strength all play a part in a person's overall health and are what "WarFit" attempts to measure.

A person's score on the bike test and the number of push-ups and sit-ups he or she does will be combined with his or her body fat percentage to come up with the composite score. This score will be used to place the person in one of three health-risk categories: low risk, moderate risk or high risk.

Schmidt said that the proposed program puts a greater emphasis on prevention through earlier education and unit physical training programs. Airmen who are identified as being a moderate risk will attend a general Healthy Living Workshop that focuses on behavior change and general information for fitness and nutrition. High-risk members will receive more individualized and targeted intervention.

At F.E. Warren AFB, airmen categorized as high-risk are placed into a five-day-a-week, mandatory exercise program. Those classified as being a moderate risk will be put into a similar, three-day-a-week program. Those who were identified as being in the low-risk category are still encouraged to exercise three times a week but their activity is not monitored.

"The goal isn't to make this monitored-exercise regimen a punishment for those with a moderate- to high-health risk," Pearse explained. "The goal is to help these people successfully adopt a healthier lifestyle."

Airmen are provided with fitness and nutritional counseling, he said. They also can get help in setting up a structured exercise program targeted at improving their overall health and fitness.

After six months in the program, more than 90 percent of the participants identified as high risk were able to improve their fitness and scored in the low-risk category.

"I was astounded that so many improved so quickly," Pearse said.