ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, GA -- Since the new fitness program began in 2004, Air Force Reserve Command’s (AFRC) performance has stumbled, according to statistics recently released from the Air Force.

In 2003, 76 percent of unit reservists took the fitness test. Most of them -- 98.9 percent -- passed their assessments. Now, two years later, 68 percent of the reservists tested, but, this time, 7 percent of them finished with a marginal score and 12 percent of them performed poorly. AFRC’s failure rate in this category was six times higher than the rate for active-duty Airmen, the Air Force report said.

In 2005, individual mobilization augmentees (IMA) performed slightly better than unit reservists. Four percent of the IMAs were marginal. Six percent were classified as poor. Today, their performances are part of the AFRC statistics since they are under the administrative control of the Readiness Management Group.

If a person failed the 3-mile walk assessment under the previous fitness program, he or she simply took it again a few months later and generally passed. However, with more stringent force wide fitness standards in place, AFRC officials recognized that this approach to fitness testing wasn’t good enough anymore. They needed a comprehensive education and intervention program to help reservists improve their overall fitness scores.

Col. (Dr.) Jim Collier, an AFRC surgeon, directed a working group to develop an intervention program for reservists who scored marginally or poorly on their fitness assessments. The group, consisting of experts from Reserve units nationwide, met in December to tackle development of an intervention tool for people needing information, encouragement and a plan to improve.

The result of their meeting is an intervention program titled Healthy Living Program for Reservists. In addition, the group developed a brochure to give to reservists. It highlights the fitness program requirements and provides helpful Web resources.

“Fitness is so much more than passing a fitness test once a year. It’s about embracing a culture of fitness that can enhance all aspects of life,” the report stated.

Totally Web-based, the new Healthy Living Program for Reservists will be posted on the Air Force portal under the Air Force Fitness Management System. It is divided into three instruction modules, each focusing on a specific topic.

The fitness module takes a comprehensive look at the frequency, intensity, length and types of exercises required to develop strength, endurance and flexibility. It also discusses ways to avoid injury and provides warning signs to look out for.

The second module on nutrition discusses the basics of a healthy diet and gives helpful hints for portion control and eating out.

The behavior modification module takes a different approach. It uses the “Top Ten Reasons for Not Exercising” to teach participants how to make proper choices while keeping them entertained. This module encourages participants to change their behavior and take control of their lives. It alos shows them how to get started.

Health and wellness centers on active-duty bases offer a wealth of assistance, the Air Force report said. These centers provide one-stop shopping to help Airmen achieve a high level of wellness. Among other things, they provide smoking cessation, weight management, fitness, nutrition, and health education and intervention programs. And most centers perform fitness testing and offer exercise and nutrition prescriptions for those who need professional oversight.

Unfortunately, health and wellness centers are only located on active-duty bases and may not be available to reservists on weekends or after hours.

One of Colonel Collier’s goals for the future is to establish a centralized virtual health and wellness center with a full-time staff available to provide reservists, via the Web, personalized exercise and nutrition prescriptions. Although still in the formative stages, Colonel Collier’s vision is for the virtual health and wellness center to serve as a resource for reservists who need help but don’t have access to health and wellness or fitness centers where they live. If approved, the colonel hopes this resource will be up and running by 2008.

The hardest part of exercise for some people is just getting started. The statistics clearly show that many reservists have yet to incorporate fitness as in integral part of their lifestyle.

Retired Gen. John P. Jumper, former Air Force chief of staff, said in his July 2003 Chief’s Sight Picture that “the amount of energy we devote to our fitness programs is not consistent with the growing demands of our warrior culture. It’s time to change that.”

(Photo: Jim Staffan does reps on one of the resistance machines in the Wright Field Fitness Center at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. At 51, Staffan said, he was an overweight smoker, but he changed his life after becoming part of the Air Force civilian fitness program. He quit smoking and attended a health class at the health and wellness center. Since February 2005, he's lost 47 pounds and five inches off his waist. U.S. Air Force photo by Spencer P. Lane.)