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Officials release fitness-test details

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Aug. 18, 2003) -- Beginning next year, Air Force officials will implement a new fitness test completely different than what airmen today are familiar with.

The more functional test will include a 1.5-mile timed run, a muscular-fitness test of push-ups and crunches and a body composition test. It is designed to measure the general health of airmen, said Maj. Lisa Schmidt, chief of health promotions operations at the Air Force surgeon general’s office.

Trainees at the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard technical school here participate in a physical-fitness routine several times a week. Their routine, which includes push-ups, crunches and a 1.5-mile run, mirrors the proposed Air Force fitness standards, which will be implemented in January 2004. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi.

"The goal is to have a healthy, fit force that can deploy at any time," Schmidt said. "Our goal is to prevent the onset of diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, high-blood pressure and high cholesterol. Basically, it is about keeping members healthy so they will perform optimally, in-garrison and deployed. Healthy members are more heat-, stress- and fatigue-tolerant, and less prone to illness and injury."

To measure airmen’s overall fitness, Schmidt’s office and a panel of health and fitness experts developed a three-component measurement system that looks at aerobic fitness, body composition and muscular fitness, she said.

An airman's performance in each of the three component areas will earn points. They can earn a maximum of 50 points on the aerobic portion of the test, 30 points on the body composition portion and 20 on the muscular fitness portion.

The total number of points earned on the fitness test will put the airman into one of four categories: 90 or greater is excellent, 75 to 89.9 is good, 70 to 74.9 is marginal, and less than 70 is poor, Schmidt said.

“Scores based on health provide an opportunity for earlier intervention,” Schmidt said. "If somebody scores in the marginal or poor category, we know they are at higher risk for disease. Therefore, we intervene with education and more frequent testing to monitor their progress."

People scoring marginal on the test will attend a two-hour healthy-living workshop that focuses on lifestyle behavior, time management and fitness education, Schmidt said.

Intervention for people scoring in the poor category involves the healthy-living workshop, an individualized exercise program and a weight-loss program for those who exceed body fat standards. It also involves mandatory exercise five days a week, she said.

The test for body composition is still being finalized, but it will measure how much body fat a person has, Schmidt said.

Tests for other components of the fitness standard have already been determined. A 1.5-mile run will determine aerobic fitness. Airmen who are not medically cleared to run will take the cycle-ergometry test. Muscular fitness will be determined by both push-ups and crunches, which will be similar to those done in conjunction with the cycle-ergometry test.

Airmen’s scores on the new fitness test will also determine how often they need to retest. People scoring “good” or “excellent” will retest after a year, while those scoring “marginal” will retest after six-months. Airmen scoring “poor” will retest after 90 days.

Just how many push-ups and crunches airmen will have to do, or how fast they will have to run, has yet to be finalized. Schmidt’s office has developed draft charts for the composite score. The fitness standards on the draft charts are tailored to both age and gender.

While the charts are not available yet, airmen who are not already involved in some sort of exercise program should begin now, Schmidt said.

"If you are not doing anything now and have concerns, see your doctor first," she said. "Begin slowly with an aerobic-exercise program such as running, jogging, swimming or biking, working up to at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Muscular fitness and flexibility also need to be part of a balanced fitness program. If you have questions about starting a fitness program, you can contact your local (health and wellness center). They can help develop a program that’s right for you.”