Take time to analyze fitness

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- "They don't pay you to do this in private practice," I told a doctor who was unhappy about a wing run at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

In the end he agreed and he decided to enjoy the wing run.

It is easy for me to point out to medics the benefit of working for an organization that cares about your health and wellness as opposed to one that just makes money off of the provision of health care. Wing runs, fit flags and squadron physical training sessions are all bonuses that most employers don't give their employees to make it easier to maintain fitness.

Improving my personal fitness was a minor goal when joining the Air Force eight years ago. For most of my adult life I thought I had "bad knees" and exercise induced asthma. It turned out that I was just overweight and deconditioned.

My shortness of breath after exertion and knee symptoms resolved after losing 30 lbs and improving my fitness. Likewise, my serum triglycerides, a common form of fat found in both food and the body, dropped like a rock and my blood pressure, which at times looked like I needed medicine, also came down. Mystery diagnoses solved!

Like my knee pain and shortness of breath, there are many health problems that are tied to obesity.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates 147 billion dollars a year in the U.S. are spent on direct patient care costs related to obesity. DoD spends 1.1 billion dollars a year on health care related to obesity.

It is somewhat discouraging to note that 61 percent of Airmen are overweight and 12.5 percent are categorized as obese by body mass index criteria. For the state of Alaska, the total number of people who are overweight or obese is slightly worse than ours at 64 percent, however 27.3 percent of Alaskans are obese compared to 12.5 percent of Eielson Air Force Base Airmen.

Within six months of joining the Air Force, I received a marginal on my first PT test. It was clear to me that passing the fitness test was a condition of employment. I needed a process which would bring about improved and lasting results.

I ate salad for lunch and got an aerobic workout for about 30 minutes before work each weekday. I basically followed the advice I was giving on PHAs: eat five servings of vegetables and fruit a day, minimize fatty food and increase activity level.

It turns out that the health and wellness advice given during PHAs is quite sound and worked for me. I passed my next PT test and all the subsequent ones for the last seven years. While my strength and speed are not remarkable, they have markedly improved as has my sense of well-being.

Last year the oldest military member on active duty was Lt. Col. Daniel Kulund, an Air Force physician. Despite being Medicare eligible and possibly requiring an age waiver from Congress to stay on active duty, he does not require a profile to pass his PT test! Dr. Kulund scores an excellent on his PT tests.

Before you start grumbling about age weighted standards, you should know he runs the mile and a half in 10:15, does 45 pushups and 45 sit ups in a minute. While I cannot meet Dr. Kulund's PT test score yet, I am on a quest and improving steadily. Join me on my quest for fitness and wellness.