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The Four M's of physical fitness

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Nathan H. Johnson
  • 6th Medical Support Squadron commander
The new fitness standards; you have seen it on the cover of the Air Force Times, in the Thunderbolt, and on numerous Air Force Web sites. I know my squadron is probably getting tired of me talking about it! We all know the career ramifications of consistently failing or underperforming on these tests. However, there are other logical reasons for us to incorporate fitness into our daily routine. Why the angst about fitness? In our society, there are few words more polarizing than exercise and physical fitness! As a society, we are exercising less and our country is suffering the short and long term consequences. The scientific literature is clear: exercise is good for you! However, at the individual level, most ignore the facts. We are fortunate that our Air Force leadership understands the importance of physical fitness. I know some Airmen are more enthusiastic than others when it comes to incorporating physical fitness into their daily life. Why is this? I think a major reason is a lack of understanding. When I talk about exercise, I often mention the "four Ms" of physical fitness. The four Ms are distinct ways improved physical fitness helps both the Air Force and the individual. Each of these "M's" is important to maintaining the best Air Force in the world!

Military Readiness - Who wants to be caught in a dangerous situation thinking, "I wish I could run a little faster?" The fitness standards we have instituted are to help us excel in deployed environments. Does running a mile and half in 12 minutes ensure you are ready? Are 50 pushups and sit-ups a guarantee that you will meet all physical requirements placed upon you during a deployment? No, they do not, but it is a good start. On the flip side, "running" a mile and half in 20 minutes ensures you are not ready and a potential hindrance to mission accomplishment. What about the person whose work is primarily behind a desk? All the more reason to be ready, you never know when you will be called upon. So, do yourself and your peers a favor, and be ready for deployment!

Mental Alertness - We all should have the goal of performing at our peak. This extends beyond our physical performance; it also includes our mental performance. Many things inhibit our ability to perform at our best. One of them is stress. The military lifestyle, at home and abroad, is very stressful. We all know that. A great way to mitigate stress is through proper nutrition and exercise. What about cognitive benefits? How do we combat mental lethargy? Many of us experience the "runner's high" during aerobic exercise, a time of enhanced creativity that extends far after our exercise ends. Personally, I run in the morning. During this time, I am able to solve many of my professional and personal problems that I will face during the coming workday. For me, my family and squadron, the time I spend exercising is time well spent.

Morbidity and Mortality - The vast majority of us want to live a long and healthy life. That is good for us, our families, and for the Air Force. There are many studies that show an inverse relationship between moderate exercise and morbidity and mortality. In other words, the less time spent exercising may lead to an early onset of disease, disability, and death! Most of these studies have been performed in the civilian community, but it is also true in the Air Force as well. Fewer trips to the medical treatment facility, the more time we spend protecting our nation! On average, the lower our Airmen score on fitness exams, the more time they spend at the clinic! This is true for both officer and enlisted, male and female, young and old. It makes plain sense to keep our bodies in working order. Are you worried that all this "running" is putting you at other risks? Recent research from Stanford University demonstrated that runners not only had increased life spans, but also had a reduction of over 10 years in the onset of multiple disabilities. This is huge! And what about the osteoarthritis and knee replacements that some say this extra running causes? The Stanford study found no increase in those that ran! So, get out and get going!

Money - No important topic is free from the financial impacts that are imposed or may influence. Exercise is no different. Consistent exercise will not only save you in total lifetime health care costs, but will also save your employer, the Department of Defense, in health care costs. When you leave the Air Force in a healthy state, you will also find benefits such as lower life insurance costs. And from a personal standpoint, you may enjoy a longer, healthier life to spend all that money you save!

Please think of these other benefits when you exercise. If you are doing the minimum to pass the Air Force standards, please understand that the "Four M's" will continue to pay you back over a lifetime!