Fit to Fight to win the fight

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- With the information age has also come the obesity age. Technological advancements, websites, Playstations, and the like provide entertainment to our youth but have also stunted the use of their imaginations and certainly decreased the number of times they engage in physical exercise.

Back in the day, we played football and basketball at the playgrounds. Today's youth exercise their thumbs while playing Madden Football and Halo 3 among other games. To be frank, Americans are more obese than ever, and the Air Force is no exception.

According to Air Force statistics, nearly 45 percent of Airmen are overweight and 13 percent are obese. However, with a combination of renewed emphasis on fitness and expeditionary missions, these numbers will soon be reduced.

Bottom-line is... climb aboard the "fitness train" or get out of its way because it's not going to stop. Stopping this train would greatly impact our Air Force's ability to succeed in its mission.

As we gain momentum into the 21st century, we are riddled with change. The attacks on Sept. 11 have pushed us to become expeditionary - light, lean and lethal.

Today's Airmen are often pushed beyond their capacities only to find they are physically and mentally stronger than they ever perceived themselves to be. The first two sentences of the Airman's Creed states "I am an American Airman. I am a Warrior." But it's not enough to recite those lines. We have to believe it, live it and honor it. To be a warrior, we must embody the warrior's spirit: mind, body and soul.

A key ingredient to that warrior spirit is physical fitness. Today's battle against terrorism will not be a short one; it will be long and drawn out, won by the nation with the strongest will. Therefore, today's Airmen, more so than ever before, must be fit to fight to win the fight.

As I stroll around a packed gym at three in the afternoon, it is clear there is hope for a healthier Air Force, but how does one become fit to fight? The obvious answer would be to exercise, but how you exercise is even more important.

While hitting the weights can be fun and a toned physique may attract the opposite sex, cardiovascular exercise cannot be neglected. Focus on exercises that will enhance your fitness score.

To improve your run time, you must run. Don't kid yourself... elliptical machines, stair steppers and the bikes are all good to burn calories, but do little to improve your run time.

I know there are others like me out there who don't consider running a good time, but it is good for your health...so, like the Nike ad said (I date myself) -- "Just Do It."

Also, run with a partner as much as possible. Not only can the two of you motivate each other, but holding a conversation while you run will improve your breathing and eventually your run time. Another way to increase your speed is to run in intervals. For example, jog one lap at a slow pace and then on your second lap, double your speed. Continue this process back and forth until you reach 20 minutes.

If you prefer not to run on a track, pick landmarks as your intervals. For example, jog slowly to one light pole and then double your speed to the next one, and so forth. For those folks with bad backs, knees, ankles or hips, walk or ride a bike...do what you can as long as you do it for at least 20 minutes and push yourself so that your heart gets a workout. Set fitness goals for yourself, track your progress and make it fun.

As I finish up these two double cheeseburgers in front of me, I also realize the road to good health takes more than just exercise. It requires a change in lifestyle as well.

To look and feel right, one must eat right. Eat a balanced diet and be sure to include plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit eating foods that are high in carbohydrates (especially late at night) and don't skip out on breakfast. Eating a healthy breakfast will speed up your metabolism which will increase the rate at which your body burns calories.

Avoid starvation diets. These diets will burn muscle before they burn fat and could also lead to binge eating to replace the much needed calories.

Eating right is often an underrated component to enhancing one's fitness. Drinking plenty of water and adequate sleep and rest are also fundamental prerequisites to a healthy lifestyle and make you feel better.

Finally, a healthy diet, drinking water, plenty of rest and a steady workout regimen will increase your mental health. You will feel more energetic, more productive and happier than before.

In addition, a strict workout routine will shape your mental toughness. In my days of running track, I learned that the difference between an average runner and a good runner or a good runner and a great runner was mental toughness. It's hard to push yourself to the limit, but it's the "hard" that will shape you into a mentally and physically-fit warrior.

Other benefits to physical activities are stress reduction and team building. Fit, cohesive teams incorporate activities such as volleyball, soccer or dodge ball to get everyone actively involved.

Unfortunately, the idea that everyone is created equal is a lie and some must work harder than others to stay fit. Identify those who need more help and encouragement and push them to succeed.

If physical fitness is your forte, be a Wingman to someone who struggles with passing their fitness test. Don't leave them behind and motivate them through the finish-line while running beside them if that's what it takes.

The health and wellness center is a phenomenal resource to guide, counsel, and motivate. The fitness center has all the tools and trainers to make it happen. But, taking care of personal physical and mental fitness is ultimately your responsibility.

No one should care more about you than You. It requires motivation, dedication and a change in lifestyle, but it's worth it because you're worth it. Your families, units, Air Force and country are relying on you to win this fight.

Be a warrior, stay fit and represent us well. Our Air Force will continue to grow stronger and better in the years to come. The challenge for each of us is to grow stronger and better as well as make the Air Force warrior ethos, our ethos.