Don't focus solely on the test

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Shannon Bond
  • Public Affairs
The annual physical fitness test doesn't matter. This is a bold statement considering that as a military professional your career depends on it. However, focusing on the test alone does not support a healthy lifestyle. The goal of the test is to gauge your level of fitness, but it is not intended to be the sole measurement of a healthy lifestyle. If you learn your mental limits and invest some time into learning your body, you will discover your own path to health and wellness. 
Sure, when the test comes around there may be stress involved, tests are inherently stressful, but if a certain base level of conscious eating and exercise is the norm for you, then the test will just be one more workout that supports your overall health and wellness. If, however, regular diet and exercise is not part of your lifestyle, an increased amount of anxiety may build up as test day gets closer. Isn't one of the first Air Force core values Integrity First? That means we need to be honest with ourselves.

This is harder than it sounds when it comes to the food we eat and our level of exercise, but there are tools that help (I'll list them at the end of this article). Integrity isn't a concept or idea, it is something we live and practice with those around us, which makes it even more important to honor ourselves the same way. We may not all be nutritionists or fitness professionals but chances are we can work out the basics. Eat fruits and vegetables, control portion size, cut back on added sugar and salt, and get plenty of exercise and rest. That last bit is important. Disconnecting from work and other stressors is critical to a healthy existence.

What we don't know we can find online, from credible sources. Some of those sources are the Mayo Clinic, The National Institutes of Health (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the USDA, the FDA, and even WebMD. Just like any resource, no matter if it is a government source or not, I highly recommend verifying information from multiple studies and sources because science, just like anything else, can be highly subjective. Continually thinking about lifestyle, reading food labels, and planning exercise for you and your family will help avoid pitfalls and panic when it comes to the annual physical fitness test.

Often times, for months leading up to the test, Airmen may go on a so-called diet, increase their level of exercise and focus on known problem areas. After the test, despite vows to the contrary, Airmen may slide back into bad habits and physical neglect. Does this sound familiar? Even if you haven't personally experienced this, chances are you have seen it.

While it is true that serving in the military is a unique occupation that ties physical capability to livelihood, it is also true that just like any other concept, it is about perspective. It's not necessarily a negative life impact to be held to an elevated moral, ethical, and yes, physical standard. Signing that binding contract of service may help motivate and ultimately instill the habits that provide a healthful life style. And, setting the example physically, emotionally, and mentally doesn't just affect you, it helps the Airmen, friends, family, and the community that you serve. The other Air Force core values can be used as a motivator here too because in order to perform your job excellently (Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do) you have to be healthy.

According to the National Institute of Health and Human Services, more than two in three adults is considered to be overweight or obese. And, about one - third of children from ages six to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese. This can lead to a host of physical and psychological challenges like diabetes, depression, and heart disease. As community examples and Airman in the U.S. Air National Guard, what standard should be aimed for? It's our job to lead the way. It doesn't have to be overly difficult or painful and it's not like we have to give up all of our sweets and lazy days. If you've tried to completely cut something out, you've probably discovered that it is incredibly hard and you may even binge eat that box of chocolate cookies. There is always room for reasonable desert, it's about mindfully eating.

139th Photojournalist and endurance athlete Senior Airman Sheldon Thompson recommends getting involved. Everyone is different and while the Air Force PT test may be standard, there are many paths to health. While he prefers peddling a bike or running down a trail, someone else may prefer hiking, gym workouts, or kayaking. The goal is to engage in heartrate increasing, sustained activity throughout the week. There are various groups such as Team Red White and Blue, a veteran's non-profit group, which specializes in connecting veterans with community through fitness and social activities. It doesn't have to be elaborate though, it's the daily effort that counts and getting motivation from anywhere, such as friends and family, helps. Why not gather a group to walk with you at lunch?

With twenty four hours in a day, the priority is to make just one hour, or even half an hour, dedicated to movement. Set a fun goal every day and focus on that, not the result. Adventure fitness is the ticket for those who would rather spend time outside exploring. The only thing needed for adventure fitness is an open mind, perhaps a little curiosity, and shoes or a bicycle. Go outside, get your heartrate up and explore. Others would rather watch a show as they tackle the treadmill climb, which is perfectly fine!

Of course nutrition plays a huge role. For most, simpler is better, exercise and eat a balanced diet. If the goal is to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in each day. But keeping track of calories, exercise and activity isn't easy. That is where technology comes into the picture. Why not use the smartphone for more than just Instagram and Facebook?  There are a host of easy apps that can help someone keep track of activities and calories. Some phones like the Apple iPhone (5S and later) and Samsung Galaxy S5 have built in pedometers. While we know that working out is crucial, so is your daily activity, especially if you have a desk job. If your phone doesn't have a pedometer, activity tracker prices have dropped dramatically. Some of them are as inexpensive as $15. While technology can be overwhelming, in the case of fitness and health, it's important to focus on what works for you.

If you experiment and find that MapMyFitness is the right app, coupled with a FitBit, or a less expensive generic brand, then stick with it. And, pay attention when that move indicator lets you know that it's time to get up and take a few steps. Make it a game to track your calories. If you overshoot your calorie intake target, that's ok, be easy on yourself, and maybe go for a short run or walk after dinner to balance the scales. It's easier to keep track when the information is on the screen in front of you (this helps with that integrity challenge). While the focus should be making each day count, the long game is how we measure success in inches, pounds, and healthy hearts.

Technology and trackers put the reality of our nutrition, daily activity, and workouts in front of us. They are our personal trainers without the continuing cost. They help us identify trends over time and even connect us socially with friends who are doing the same (strava is like Facebook for active people). My favorite is Garmin Connect (and Strava) coupled with a Vivosmart, Vivoactive, or Fenix 3 for harder training. But, there are a lot of options out there, some smart phone capable and some basic. I've included some links at the end of the article to get you started. If you keep at it, it will turn into habit. This lifestyle change will improve your health and turn that annual one hour PT test into just another data point in your already healthy day.
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Garmin vivo series