Air Force Addresses Lower Fitness Levels


ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, GA — Since beginning its new fitness program in 2004, Air Force Reserve Command's (AFRC) performance has stumbled, according to statistics recently released from the Air Force.

In 2003, 76 percent of unit reservists took the AFRC fitness test. Most of them — 98.9 percent — passed their assessments. Now, two years later, 68 percent of the reservists tested, but this time, 7 percent of them finished with a marginal score and 12 percent of them performed poorly. AFRC's failure rate in this category was six times higher than the rate for active-duty airmen, the Air Force report said.

“I think it is a seesaw. [The numbers] may be down a bit for this last reporting period, but they will come back up and they probably will go back down again,” said Alan Ray, chief of recreation support for the services at reserve command headquarters at Robins Air Force Base, GA. “We don't know the true reasoning behind it.”

If a person failed the three-mile walk assessment under the previous fitness program, he or she took it again a few months later and generally passed, he said. However, with more stringent force-wide fitness standards in place, AFRC officials recognized that this approach to fitness testing wasn't good enough anymore.

Although Air Force health and wellness centers provide numerous programs and facilities for improving fitness, many are located on active-duty bases only and may not be available to reservists on weekends or after hours. Furthermore, many reservists live 40, 50 or 60 miles from a base, Ray said.

To help combat these issues, Colonel Jim Collier directed a working group to develop an intervention program for reservists who scored marginally or poorly on their fitness assessments. The group, consisting of experts from reserve units nationwide, met in December to develop an intervention tool for people needing information, encouragement and a plan to improve.

The result? The completely Web-based Healthy Living Program for Reservists. Posted on the Air Force portal under the Air Force Fitness Management System, the site is divided into three instruction modules, each focusing on a specific topic. The fitness module takes a comprehensive look at the frequency, intensity, length and types of exercises required to develop strength, endurance and flexibility. It also discusses ways to avoid injury and provides warning signs to look out for. The second module on nutrition discusses the basics of a healthy diet and gives helpful hints for portion control and eating out. The behavior modification module takes a different approach. It uses the Top Ten Reasons for Not Exercising to teach participants how to make proper choices while keeping them entertained. This module encourages participants to change their behavior and take control of their lives. It also shows them how to get started.

One of Collier's future goals is to establish a centralized virtual health and wellness center with a full-time staff available to provide reservists, via the Web with personalized exercise and nutrition prescriptions. Although still in the formative stages, Collier's vision is for the virtual health and wellness center to serve as a resource for reservists who need help but don't have access to health and wellness or fitness centers where they live. If approved, the colonel hopes this resource will be up and running by 2008.

“The primary thing is that it's not a downward trend; it's a hiccup more than anything,” Ray said. “Every installation will work through this to make sure [reservists] are as fit as they can be.”

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