Physical fitness and its importance to the Airman

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Scott Anderson
  • 13th Space Warning Squadron commander
Physical fitness is an integral part of the Air Force culture and most Airmen understand their physical fitness requirements. While many Airmen implement an exercise program to help meet their fitness requirements, it is sometimes motivated primarily to avoid negative consequences.

The fear of failed PT tests with the resulting disciplinary actions and even the potential loss of an Air Force career can be a powerful motivating tool. However, if this is the primary motivation for exercising as part of a physical fitness program, it is unavoidable that it will simply become another chore or task that is part of the job. It will not be enjoyable and a physical fitness program will have no chance to become part of a lifestyle.

While not everyone will "love" running or exercising at the gym, using positive rather than negative motivation can help it become part of an Airmen's lifestyle rather than just a job requirement. Among the many positive benefits of physical activity, I try to use these positive motivating factors to help encourage physical fitness as an enabling tool to improve Airmen's quality of life.

First, physical fitness boosts productivity, not just at the workplace but in everyday life. Second, for Arctic Airmen, physical fitness is especially important to help combat the stresses of the extreme environmental conditions. Finally, physical fitness activities can be very useful in building team work and camaraderie.

One indisputable benefit of being physically fit is experiencing an increase in productivity, both mentally and physically. The increased serotonin from exercising helps increase mental clarity. On the physical side, the endorphins from physical activity will release endorphins that increase energy levels. For Airmen, the resulting boost in productivity can increase current job performance and future opportunities. For the Arctic Airmen at Clear AFS working in harsh environmental winter conditions, the added mental acuity is critical and often the difference between remaining safe and potential injury. Increased productivity is one positive selling point to help make exercising a choice rather than an obligation, but the ability for exercise to help combat stress is another selling point.

In the interior of Alaska, the environment and working conditions are often very difficult and even potentially dangerous. The mental clarity gained from exercise is only one way to help combat these conditions. The resulting stress from nearly six months of harsh winter conditions can take their toll on anyone. Exercise and overall physical fitness is extremely effective in helping with stress. The ability to "get away" if even for a short time is an important tool in relieving stress. It is a positive distraction and lets you come back to work recharged.

In the Arctic, increased stress levels can lead to depression. One of the risks of living and working in Alaska is depression. Dealing with stress in a positive way through exercise is preventative maintenance to help keep depression at bay.

While increasing productivity and dealing with stress are positive selling points for exercise on a personal level, there is also a larger positive benefit at the unit level. Clear AFS is unique with an active duty squadron, the 13th Space Warning Squadron, supported by a larger Alaskan Air National Guard squadron, the 213th SWS. Both have different challenges with active duty members serving one year remote assignments, and ANG members often living in distant locations across Alaska. This can create challenges of its own in developing the camaraderie and esprit de corps that facilitates strong teamwork. Organized physical fitness events have tremendously helped develop teamwork across all the partners of Team Clear. For example, the recent "guns 'n hoses" floor hockey challenge between the 13th SWS civilians of the fire department and the 213th SWS guardsmen of security forces fostered friendly competition and increased understanding and cooperation afterward.

Many Airmen are motivated to exercise, but often for the wrong reasons. Rather than just a fear of negative consequences of a PT failure, exercise can be incorporated as a positive choice for both the individual and the unit. Not everyone will necessarily love exercising, but if presented positive consequences of physical activity many will like the results enough to choose it as part of a healthy lifestyle.