Habitual Fitness Protects the Investment

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Darius M. Roberson
  • 730th Air Mobility Squadron
After 18 years of military service, I've seen many changes to the Air Force's Fitness Program.  As an Airman, I was subjected to the stationary bicycle test; a test that was controversial at best because of the great difficulty experienced by testers who should have passed with ease.  While on the other hand, smokers could generally pass the test with flying colors, especially if they had recently smoked just prior to riding the bike; trust me, I was one of those smokers. 

And then the approximated mile and a half run test was introduced and with it came some uncertainty, uneasiness, and an almost immediate departure of quite a few "old school" members, many of whom hadn't ran this distance for time since basic training or a subsequent visit to a Professional Military Education school.  There were many Technical Sergeants and SNCOs who were leaders or mentors in my eyes, yet failed to adapt to the new fitness testing requirements for one reason or another.  Many of them failed simply because of their inability to make fitness a habitual part of their lifestyles.

In my opinion, habitual fitness is described as the daily act of performing any act of high-level physical training, aerobic and/or anaerobic (preferably both) for at least 30 to 45 minutes.  As I mentioned earlier, I was once a half-pack to a pack-a-day smoker, depending on how my day was going as I attempted to fix broken aircraft on the flight-line, and those days almost always began with at least one cup of coffee in the morning; just like how the "old school" guys that I respected used to do things. 

However, it was becoming more evident with each passing year of service that the Air Force was changing, and as a result, I would have to adapt as well in order to meet or exceed the standards and to protect the career that I'd built over the years past.
To be clear, at no time was there a conscious decision on my part to make fitness a habit.  Instead, I made small, yet important and life-changing decisions to challenge myself by running a certain distance, or for an amount of time, or by lifting a predetermined amount of weight after so many weeks or months (it's important to note that these were long-term goals that could not be achieved after only a few weeks of training.) 

Ten years later, my body has come to expect this stress and I don't feel the same physically or mentally if I'm without it for too long.  It's literally become a part of who I am.  More importantly still, is that I've learned that there is simply no replacement for the healthy type of stress that I'm referring to.  No coffee, nicotine, or energy drink can replicate the kind of high that is produced by a good workout. 

In 2010, I decided to run a few 5K races on the weekends, not only because they supported great local and national causes, but because I wanted to continue to challenge myself and I knew that if I could master this distance, then the mile and a half fitness test would be a breeze; and I was right, but I have to admit that it hurt for the first few races or so. 

In 2011, at the age of 33, I set and met my goal of running a sub nine-minute mile and a half during my fitness test. That same year, I decided to train myself, with the help of a cellphone application, to run a marathon in 3 hours and 30 minutes; I beat my goal by 10 minutes.  I've said all of that to make this point...

The decision to exercise is a conscious one; however, the decision to make it habitual is often made subconsciously, like most habits, be they good or bad.  However, when fitness becomes a habit it no longer feels like work, the stress takes on a positive form, and the benefits are reaped by you, your families, and the Air Force. 

If you're new to running or interested in starting any new form of physical training there are at least four key points to keep in mind: (1) start small, as they say every journey begins with a single step; (2) make each goal achievable (but not too easy) in order to allow your confidence to grow unhindered; (3) set new challenges often, as this gives you something to look forward to and keeps your new activity exciting; and (4) believe in yourself and what the human body is capable of. 

Dean Karnazes is an American who ran 50 marathons, in 50 states, in 50 days; think about that the next time you line up for the run portion of your annual or biannual fit test.  Protect the investment that you and the Air Force have made in your health and career and make fitness a routine part of your lifestyle; it'll become a good habit before you know it!