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Fitness vs. Wellness

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Eric Huweart
  • 43rd Medical Group Deputy Commander
Just two months ago, Maj. Jonathan Wright, 43rd Contracting Squadron Commander, wrote a spectacular commentary challenging us to take advantage of both the weather and the rejuvenating spirit that the spring season brings and to get in the 'PT Mindset.' 

In that article he discussed being both "War Fit" and "Fit for Life" along with the importance of a complete fitness program. Today, I would like to go one step further and converse with you about the one specific element of the Air Force Fitness Program that seems to give members the most grief, the dreaded abdominal circumference. 

Although the vast majority of Airmen seem to appreciate the importance of the aerobic and strength requirements of the PT program, the AC has probably been the single most loathed AF policy in the past five years. As both an Air Force Medical Service officer and a Squadron Commander I cannot tell you how often I hear comments and/or complaints about how the AF should not expect every male to have a 32-inch waist and every female to have a 29-inch waist; after all we are not all built like Barbie and Ken. 

Others will add that you certainly do not need to have that thin of a waist to still look good in uniform. 

But before we delve deeper into one of the most detested and controversial subjects for today's Airman, let us take Major Wright's "War Fit" and "Fit for Life" components and re-define them in a slightly different manner; fitness and wellness respectively. Some might contend that the only difference between fitness and wellness is semantics, that one cannot be fit without also being well and vice versa. 

While I agree that the two concepts are indeed similar and related, I maintain that their difference, as subtle as it might be, is central to the PT program. 

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of fitness is "the quality or state of being sound physically and mentally," whereas wellness is defined as "the quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal." Obviously as military members our physical and mental soundness (i.e. fitness) is vital to our ability to fly, fight and win.
No one ever questions the importance of being fit to meet the mission, thus the general lack of disagreement with the aerobic and strength components of the PT test. 

On the other hand, good health (i.e. wellness) is a less straight-forward subject and undoubtedly a harder concept to measure. After all, so what if I enjoy chocolate too much, I can still run the mile and a half in 12 minutes. And why should the AF care if three hamburgers a day give me a spare tire around my waist, I can still pound out the push-ups. 

I submit to you that the answer to those questions is that not only is the AF concerned about meeting the mission, it is also committed to taking care of its people, both active duty and veteran. Yes, a decent run time and the maximum amount of push-ups arguably indicate good fitness, but they arguably say very little about long term health and wellness. Hence the infamous AC measurement, added to the PT test in 2004 as a scientifically proven measurement of health and wellness. 

To support this position I reference a fascinating study reported in Oct. 2002 in the Archives of Internal Medicine which examined the effects of an excessive abdominal girth on blood pressure, diabetes and blood cholesterol levels. 

In this study, investigators looked specifically at the health effects associated with larger abdominal circumferences regardless of the individual's weight category. The results were very clear for males and females alike. In each weight category those with larger waist circumferences had higher blood pressures, higher blood cholesterol levels, lower HDL (the good cholesterol) levels, and higher blood levels of neutral fats (triglycerides). Bottom-line, the bigger your gut, the less healthy you are. 

But let's go back to the Barbie and Ken claim that everybody is built different. Indeed we are and if you read the Feb. 11 edition of the Air Force Times you would know that the AF is reviewing the current fitness program and may soon modify the one size fits all AC standard. But regardless of if, how and when the AF modifies the standard, two things are quite clear. 

First, like it or not, the AC measurement has been the standard for the past five years and as such it is incumbent upon every airman, NCO, officer and commander to meet, uphold and enforce it as such. Second, and more importantly, it is quite clear that excessive abdominal girth has severe negative effects on your health. That simple, scientifically proven fact should provide by itself more than enough motivation to every military member and civilian alike to personally strive to improve both your fitness and your wellness. Not just so you can pass your next PT test, but because you owe it to yourself and everyone around you that cares about you.