Comprehensive Airman Fitness: Physical strength


Editor’s note: This feature is the first of a five-part series intended to detail the four wellness domains of Comprehensive Airman Fitness (physical, mental, social and spiritual) and how each applies to well-balanced, resilient Airmen.


When you hear the word ‘physical,’ what image comes to your mind?


Do you picture a body builder flexing on a stage, track star bolting off the line, an endurance athlete pressing through ‘the wall’ or perhaps a competitor in the Highland games tossing a caber?


Physical fitness isn’t only important for performance athletes. It contributes to everybody’s overall health, especially service members.


Recognized as one of the four domains of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, the Air Force describes physical wellness as “the ability to adopt and sustain healthy behaviors needed to enhance health and wellbeing.”


“Nutrition is the foundation of physical health,” said Geoff Boro, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron health promotion flight dietitian. “You can train perfectly, but if you don’t have a solid foundation in nutrition, you’re not going to get the results you’re hoping for. Nutrition and exercise go hand in hand. One should always support the other.”


Borro said nutrition, at its most basic, is about building each meal with a lean protein source, carbohydrates and some healthy fat. Starchy vegetables, fruits or grains are the preferred source of carbohydrates and dairy products and plant-based fats are preferred.


To help his clients maintain this basic meal plan, Borro said, he recommends a 100-80-20 guideline. Every single meal should emphasize proper meal construction and portion control. Eighty percent of the time, members should think of food as fuel, and the other 20 percent of their meals can be about enjoyment.


Hydration goes right along with a proper diet, Borro said.


“Hydration, at its root, is important because it’s the path for nutrient delivery,” Borro said. “It doesn’t matter how many nutrients you have if you don’t have water, your tissues can’t absorb them. If you have inadequate hydration your physical and cognitive performance are going to decrease. Even if you aren’t sweating, if you aren’t hydrated, your performance goes down. Once we start talking about your mile and a half PT run, it can mean a night and day difference.”


Borro suggested that anyone interested in learning more about nutrition can call (302) 677-6779, or stop by his office at the fitness center to schedule a meeting.


He also recommended members have their body composition analyzed to provide a baseline from which to gage progress. The flight’s InBody device is available Monday through Friday at the fitness center. Anyone interested should visit the office for information about how to get the most accurate body composition measurements.


Borro said the measurements provided by this machine can also give a better understanding of muscle and fat distribution throughout the body and help personalize a fitness plan.


“I can’t tell you how important fitness is; how important it is to keep the body in motion,” said John Walters, 436th Force Support Squadron fitness program manager. “People tell me, ‘I get tired at work.’ It’s actually the opposite. A body in motion stays in motion. When you work out, you get your heart rate up, your arteries open up and your blood starts flowing. That’s instant health. Lifting weights is what I call putting money in the bank. It’s gaining muscle for down the road. Your metabolic rate goes through the roof. Your physical performance increases and you get better endurance throughout the day.”


Walters said it’s important to make sure Airmen have a plan and focus on safety when working out. To help with making a fitness plan, he suggest the acronym: FITT.


Frequency: You need to work out at least three days each week to maintain your current fitness level and up to five days to improve your fitness. It’s important to take time to rest though to decrease the risk of injury.


Intensity: The target heart rate for a workout session is at least 75 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.


Time: The amount of time you put into your workouts is determined by the intensity. If your heart rate is at 85 percent of your maximum, you can get a great workout in 20 to 30 minutes, but if you’re below 70 percent working on your endurance, you might need to exercise for 45 minutes to an hour.


Type: We’re all expected to pass our fitness assessments, so we need to make sure our exercise routines prepare us for that.


In addition to FITT, every good workout plan should focus on three additional things: specificity, progression and overload.


Specificity of exercise and environment: Running on an elliptical or treadmill works different muscle groups than running on the track. Also, if Airmen don’t train outside in adverse weather, they might not be prepared to take a fitness assessment in wind, rain or cold weather. That’s why it’s important to ‘train like you test.’


Progression: Fitness is a lifestyle decision, the changes don’t happen overnight. The healthier option is to aim for a gradual change. Don’t wait for two weeks before a fitness assessment to get in shape. Start at least 12 weeks before, or better yet, maintain fitness throughout the year.


Overload: Once you’ve progressed, it’s time to push yourself harder. If you train harder than what’s required, then what’s required will be easy.


Balancing nutrition and exercise can improve a person’s resilience – their ability to withstand, recover and grow in the face of stressors and changing demands – Walters said.


“I see people walking into the gym all the time,” Walters said. They don’t all have smiles when they walk in, but most of them do when they walk out. There’s definitely a sense of accomplishment associated with working out. You start to feel better about yourself, and that cuts down on stress.”


The fitness center teaches more than 150 free classes each month, including 90 Plus, TS-24, TRX and Extreme Fitness.


For more information about exercise or to sign up for one of the free classes, visit the fitness center, or call (302) 677-3962.


“It’s important to realize that the choices you make today about your fitness will affect you for the rest of your life,” Walters cautioned. “I used to work at the medical group. I saw Airmen getting ready to retire find out they had diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. Not exercising can lead to many health concerns, so it’s extremely important to exercise three to five times a week. We all fall off the horse from time to time, but there’s always time to get back on and ride. I want everyone to take care of themselves physically, so they can live a long and healthy life, both in the Air Force, and after they separate.”