ARLINGTON, VA -- In response to an internal audit of its fitness program, the Air Force announced plans that require airmen to take a physical fitness test twice a year, beginning in January 2010. Most reservists or guardsmen will continue taking the fitness test once a year, however.

The changes should help improve the overall health levels of Air Force personnel and save on Tricare military health insurance costs, according to Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley.

“Proper fitness is an important aspect of an overall healthy lifestyle,” McKinley told senior Air Force leaders at a conference held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH. “When our airmen are fit, eat healthy and reduce risk factors such as tobacco use and irresponsible alcohol consumption, their health will improve, they will visit the hospital less, and in the end, Tricare costs will be reduced.”

The Air Force designed a new hierarchy of fitness for its program after consulting with fitness industry experts. Cardiovascular fitness now will make up 60 percent of the fitness test score, up from 50 percent, and the body composition aspect will drop from 30 percent to 20 percent of the score.

“The hierarchy starts with cardiovascular aerobic,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel. “The secondary piece of that is with body composition. The third is muscle fitness, starting first and foremost with the core area, your stomach area, and then with push-ups.”

Currently, about 3.77 percent of active-duty airmen fail the annual fitness test, but the Air Force expects that number to go up slightly once the new standards go into effect.

The internal audit also found that certain aspects of the test were being performed inconsistently, so the Air Force decided to have civilians conduct the tests at centralized locations called fitness assessment cells.