Fitness...or is it more?

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Fitness has been a much talked about subject around the Air Force for quite some time. Much of the time, the focus has been about our fitness assessment rather than the topic of fitness itself. I have heard many people say, "I don't need a 32-inch waist or to be able to do 40 push-ups or sit-ups to do my job." Others have said, "I sit at a desk all day. Why do I need to be able to run a mile and a half in 12 minutes?"

As a counterpoint, I believe the fitness assessment and our fitness standards are about more than being fit enough just to do our jobs or accomplish the mission. I believe our fitness standards and, more specifically, the will and ability to meet them are a direct reflection of professionalism and self-discipline.

Individuals who display true professionalism and self-discipline tend to look for a way and make the effort necessary to meet standards, whatever those standards may be. Those same individuals hold themselves accountable rather than forcing others to hold them accountable. Other individuals that, in some way, lack those attributes tend to look for excuses or find fault with the standards themselves. I am not saying that everyone that fails a fitness assessment is not a professional or does not have any self-discipline, but I do believe the vast majority of those individuals not meeting fitness standards lack a justifiable reason for not being able to do so. Professional Airmen look to do more than just be experts at their jobs; they also work hard to present a professional appearance in uniform. In both cases, job expertise and professional appearance, self-discipline is a key player. Weight and fitness take self-discipline and contribute to a professional appearance.

Why is it that we have Airmen that cannot meet the fitness standards? I have reviewed hundreds and possibly thousands of fitness reports on our Airmen. One key point has caught my attention. As weight and waist size increase, other test scores (points for push-ups, sit-ups, and run time) almost universally decrease. I do not claim to be a doctor, but I am willing to bet that fitness profiles also increase with added weight (see Col. Waddell's article for a doctor's view). Stress on the heart, joints and other body parts increases, making the probability of associated medical issues greater. On a personal note, I felt comfortably in shape and had no trouble meeting fitness standards at 175 pounds. With a little self-discipline and a concerted effort to have a more nutritious diet and increase my exercise regimen, I realized that I was carrying far too much weight and now carry 150 pounds comfortably. I believe the same is true of many of our Airmen. As Americans, we have become accustomed to weighing more and now accept it as the healthy norm.

I got a wake-up call when I used a great and often under-utilized resource available at our own Peterson Health and Wellness Center -- the BodPod. I knew after dropping nearly 20 pounds that a trip to the BodPod would pad my ego. It did not. What I learned was that I still had a greater body fat percentage than I thought. The report also made me wonder what I would have seen had I still weighed 175 pounds. I challenge each of you to schedule a BodPod appointment and see where you stand. We are too heavy as Americans and as Airmen and that fact shows up negatively in our overall fitness assessments. Maybe more importantly, that fact shows up more literally when we wear our uniforms. Self-discipline and professionalism as American Airmen should cause us to take notice.

Weight alone, although a big factor, is not enough. We as Airmen need to stop making excuses for why we do not exercise enough and, in some cases, fooling ourselves into thinking we are doing more than we actually are. I have had fellow Airmen, in trying to justify their efforts at losing weight and getting fit, tell me, "I run two miles a day at least three times per week." My response is not to pat them on the back. The fact is that six or even eight miles per week running or walking does not burn enough calories to account for a single large restaurant burger, not including fries and a drink. Our Airmen need to hit the gym or hit the pavement more than that. Does that take self-discipline? Yes. Is that a sign of professionalism as an Airman? Yes.

Fitness and results on our fitness assessment are about more than just being able to perform our mission. They are a reflection of our professionalism and self-discipline. Are you willing to do what is necessary to make a difference in your fitness and, subsequently, pass the fitness assessment? The public sees how we look in uniform. We need to present an image of professional and self-disciplined Airmen.