MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, MT, UNITED STATES
Story by Senior Airman Tristan Day
The coronavirus has left the nation in lockdown status for more than a year and with that has come difficulties of eating healthy, staying in shape and remaining accountable due do the delay of the U.S. Air Force physical fitness test.
With the nation gradually reopening, the physical fitness assessments are scheduled to resume in April 2021, according to Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.
Airmen should plan ahead to get back on track and do their part to maintain combat readiness of the Total Force.
“[When the coronavirus started], gyms were actually closed,” said Kirk Clark, 341st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion coordinator and physiologist. “People who had a set schedule for exercise, sometimes on a daily basis, would have to figure out how to change their entire routine from scratch.”
Some individuals who rely on their job as their sole source of exercise were furloughed or laid-off when the pandemic started.
“Whatever an individual’s normal activity level was before coronavirus, became a little less because of it,” said Clark.
“The Department of Defense as a whole saw a slight weight creep,” he added. “While it’s not overly dramatic, since it’s only over a 12-month timespan, its still significant enough to be concerning.”
Extra weight equals extra risk
“We need to look at this weight creep and compare it to the readiness of our Airmen,” said Clark. “Does this put our Airmen at a greater risk of injury?”
With the extra weight gain seen across the entire nation during the pandemic, a mere additional 15 pounds of weight puts stress on the body, especially if it hasn’t seen consistent exercise after a period of time.
“We’re at a greater risk for injuries with this extra weight on our bodies,” said Clark. “Excess weight doesn’t do the body any favors. It can affect blood pressure, cholesterol, anything.”
Clark also noted that the physical and mental health of members are directly related, be it from their physical fitness state or due to the pandemic.
“There’s been a rise in anxiety, depression and weight gain throughout the country,” he said. “What we’ve been eating affects our health, too, and not just our physical health.”
Functional health – what does it mean to ‘eat healthy’?
Throughout COVID, food shortages occurred as there were fewer supply deliveries during lockdown status. The lack of availability has impacted people’s diets, which results in additional affects, according to Clark.
“If you’re going to eat a certain type of food, how does it make you feel?” said Clark. “Are you depressed, anxious, angry or overall emotional with no idea why?
“Nutrition controls chemicals, chemicals control our emotions, and that is where our base’s licensed, clinical dietician and nutritionist comes in,” he added.
Gabriella Darrow, 341st OMRs dietician and nutritionist, provides tools to help Airmen and their dependents plan out their nutrition so they may continue functioning in a healthy manner.
“We discuss nutritional, social and medical history to help educate patients on the best food choices to prevent or treat certain diseases, weight management and increase quality of life through functional nutrition,” said Darrow.
“My main goal is to have people gain a positive and mindful relationship with foods and how your intake choices impact your energy levels, mood, physical ability and how you can gain more functional years as you age,” she continued.
Proper nutrition directly impacts Airmen readiness via their health, increasing morale and improving overall wellness.
“Physical fitness and nutrition are huge players in preparing, executing and recovering from PT tests,” said Darrow. “Kirk and I are here to guide you during the whole process.
“[Whether] you need help getting back into shape, need advice on what to eat before you test for score optimization, how to eat to recover from workouts, or increase overall functional ability, we can assist,” she said.
Getting on track to pass PT
“Because of the coronavirus, our PT tests were put on hold – they weren’t going away,” said Clark. “Now we have people looking at themselves and noticing they may have gotten out of shape due to extra weight or just unhealthy eating habits.”
The Health Promotion Team, which consists of Clark and Darrow, have machines available to Airmen and their family members to help them keep a timeline of their body’s composition.
“[These machines] use methods to measure lean muscle mass, body weight, body fat, water weight and metabolic rate to name a few,” said Clark.
Determining the metabolic rate allows individuals to tie in nutrition to optimize their caloric intake for specific fitness goals.
The body composition machines in Health Promotions also have the ability to track an individual’s body composition and apply it visually to a graph or chart to show progress over a period of time.
The information is used to determine if the numbers are considered risky (low or high body fat), lean or excess fat, and what is considered healthy according to the individual’s body mass index.
Once the rating has concluded, individuals are given guidance on how to reach the goal they want and what their caloric intake should be in order to make it a reality.
“The Health Promotions team offers a variety of services regarding nutrition and exercise,” said Darrow. “We have a passion for helping you achieve your fitness goals and promote a fun and sustainable approach to help you not only achieve them, but find enjoyment in movement and eating to improve overall well-being.”
To set up an appointment regarding the machines, nutrition or exercise, contact Kirk Clark at 406-731-2404 or Gabriella Darrow at 406-731-2178.