Faced with a less fit force than ever before, the Army is rolling out new initiatives and offering wearable technology to help soldiers and their families live healthier lifestyles.
In recent years the military has been faced with a less fit force, struggling to find and keep soldiers healthy and fit for duty. Last year 2,300 soldiers were discharged for being overweight, at a cost of $61 million, according to the Department of Defense. Meanwhile, soldiers with musculoskeletal injuries - the majority caused by basic working tasks like lifting, carrying and dismounted patrolling - represent 45 percent of the medically not-ready force. Lack of quality sleep is also taking a toll; soldiers who get five hours of sleep or less lose 20 percent of their cognitive performance.
All of that adds up to a less productive force, a circumstance that has not gone unnoticed. As part of its focus on finding new avenues to improve the overall health, wellness and fitness of its personnel, the Office of the Surgeon General and Army Medicine launched a pilot program earlier this month known as the Performance Triad. Focusing on the components of activity, nutrition and sleep, the program complements the Department of Defense's Operation Live Well, the Army Ready and Resilient Campaign (known as R2C), and the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program. Each program encourages soldiers and their families to be more proactive in developing healthful lifestyle behaviors.
Developed by Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, the Army surgeon general, the Performance Triad is expected to bring new levels of health and fitness to Army personnel and their families.
"This is something I am absolutely passionate about" Horoho told a group in September. "I believe we are going to make great changes in health care and in health. We're creating something different than anything we have in the past. We do heath care better than anyone else in the world; now we are going to be the model for delivering health."
The pilot program has been launched at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Wash.; Fort Bragg in N.C.; and Fort Bliss in Texas. Participating soldiers have been issued Fitbit Flex wristbands, providing them with the tracking ability that many fitness experts believe is an important - and often missing - component for improved health and fitness.
"Keeping track of a person's physical activity or exercise plan is one of the most important aspects of success because it can boost motivation, which is crucial in sustaining regular exercise habits," says Livia Mazzola, a certified master personal trainer and group exercise instructor. "Nutrition and sleep also play an important role in a good health-oriented plan. The actual data will be a huge indicator that the plan is working. I've seen about a 75 percent increase in success in clients who are committed to their daily journals, be it on paper or through technology."
While food journaling will have to be done online or through the available Fitbit app, the Fitbit Flex bands will help approximately 2,200 soldiers participating in the 180-day pilot test gain a clearer understanding of their activity levels during the day and their sleep quality at night.
"Individual soldiers will be able to monitor their activity level in steps and sleep, while the soldiers' leaders will be able to monitor these levels as well," says Col. John O'Brien, Madigan Army Medical Center's chief of operational medicine and deployment health. "Squad leaders will have access to individual soldier's and squad members' data, while platoon leaders and above will only be able to see group data."
O'Brien adds that the Army's hope is that technology such as this will help promote the Performance Triad principles.
"In the long term, the Army Surgeon General hopes that the Performance Triad, along with Fitbit technology and common cell phone apps, will help to empower soldiers, family members and other beneficiaries to change our healthcare system to a 'System of Health,' " says O'Brien. "[This system] will have a greater focus on what individuals can do for themselves to improve the Triad elements of activity, nutrition and sleep in order to prevent the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity."
While the Performance Triad is limited in its pilot program, fitness center operators and staff members should encourage members and employees to take advantage of tracking technology. Additionally, classes can incorporate or complement the technology, highlighting calorie burns, steps and other metrics tracked by the device, as well as running contests for most improvement.
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