Fitness Assessment first up on road to civilian wellness

  • Published
  • By Chuck Paone
  • 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Hanscom Installation and 66th Air Base Wing Commander Col. Dave 'Iron' Orr has established a new Civilian Wellness program aimed at improving, and perhaps even extending, the lives of Hanscom's civilian employees. 

Well, I'm a civilian, and I want to be healthy, so it sounds like a perfect pairing. 

But where do I begin? That's the question I imagine many civilian employees are asking, and it's indeed the one I asked when I sat down with base fitness specialists last week. 

Turns out Hanscom civilians looking to improve their fitness have a range options available to them, including a modern Fitness and Sports Center loaded with fitness equipment, athletic playing courts and even an indoor jogging track. What many may not know, however, is that the Fitness Center is staffed by knowledgeable fitness specialists who can help you evaluate your current fitness and then get you started on a sustainable, tailored program. 

The best thing to do up front, these fitness specialists highly recommend, is schedule an appointment for a fitness assessment, a free service available to all Hanscom team members. 

So that's exactly what I did. 

The assessment provides "a baseline fitness level," Fitness Center director Jerry Turnbow told me as I sat answering some fairly routine health questions at the outset.
"You can see where you are and determine what areas you need to improve in," he said. 

Before undergoing any physical testing, Paul Shoesmith, a certified fitness trainer, handed me a thin black strip and instructed me on how to attach it to my chest. The strip is a heart rate monitor that's automatically read by the testing equipment, as well as by many of the exercise machines in the center. 

With the strip affixed, we headed for the testing room, where we started with a few more questions and then moved on to what might have been the standard start to an annual physical, a blood pressure check and weigh-in. But after that, the steps to follow were not so usual, and they yielded data I'd never before received. 

The first of those steps was, to be honest, not so pleasant - though really not so bad, either. Sometimes called the skin-fold pinch test, for what would soon become obvious reasons, Mr. Shoesmith proceeded to quantify my 'skin folds,' taking precise measurements at specific points on my chest, abdomen and thigh with an electronic caliper that instantly transfers the information to a computer. 

Then he repeated the process, and the computer instantly calculated the average of the two tests, spitting out an overall body fat percentage. At 23.9 percent, mine fell into the 'Fair' zone, but frankly the lower end of it, closer to the 'Needs Work' end than the 'Ideal' end. 

I'm 44 and clearly not in the shape I used to be in, the shape I wish I was still in, and a bit of disappointment must have showed on my face. Mr. Shoesmith, perhaps recognizing this, assured me that the number isn't so bad. 

Then, following some discussion about exercise and nutritional changes that could help me improve my number, it was on to the bike. I walk, jog (albeit slowly), try to get on an elliptical machine fairly regularly, so I thought, OK, now I'll show them. 

Unfortunately - or as the case may be, fortunately - they told me instead: my aerobic condition "needs work." 

"You need to allow more time for exercise," Mr. Turnbow explained, after I admitted that I seldom spend much more than 20 or 25 total minutes jogging or on a machine. "Your body doesn't even start burning fat until after the first 20 minutes. 

"Additionally, to improve your cardiovascular aerobic level, you need to maintain your target heart rate at a level based on your fitness condition and your fitness goals. Training within your target heart rate range is key to getting the most benefit out of your cardiovascular workout." 

But while I'd been deluding myself in terms of aerobic fitness, my bicep strength tested out much higher than I'd expected. This I note only to point out that the test proved me wrong again, to show that a person's fitness assumptions can be a good bit off. 

"That's one reason why it makes sense to start out by taking advantage of this service," Mr. Turnbow said. He then offered some insightful information about muscle elasticity and settled me in for my flexibility testing. 

The results there weren't so bad, but they weren't as good as they could be, or as I'd like them to be. But before I left, Mr. Turnbow walked me through several daily stretching exercises I can do to improve my body's flexibility. 

By the time I was done with all of this and had taken a complete tour of the facility, including a brief stop at each machine on the weight-training circuit, about 90 minutes had elapsed. However, the actual testing can be done more quickly. 

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Now the next step is meeting with the Fitness Center experts to design an exercise routine that will work for me. 

"Keep up with it, and then come back in three months and take this test again," Mr. Turnbow said. "If you maintain a dedicated weekly fitness workout program, you will see a big improvement in your fitness scores."