Study suggests GI physical fitness less than it can be

December 21, 2000

The U.S. military is not as physically fit as might be expected, suggest results of a survey of more than 8,500 members of the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Force.

"In a culture that values physical fitness, it is surprising to find rates of inactivity similar to civilians," said lead author Lee Harrison, PhD, RD, of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Marywood University in Scranton, PA.

Fifteen percent of the questionnaire respondents hadn't exercised within the past seven days, and 37 percent exercised less than three times a week, Harrison and colleagues found. These inactivity rates resemble those of civilians.

However, military members who do exercise tend to exercise more regularly than civilians who exercise, the researchers found. "On average, military members who exercised were four times as likely to exercise at least three times per week than were civilians who exercised," said Harrison.

The study results are published in the current issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Exercise appears to be less of a priority for some services than others, suggest the study findings. Twenty-three percent of Air Force respondents reported no exercise in the last seven days, compared to 16 percent of Navy, 9 percent of Army and 7 percent of Marine Corps respondents.

This inactivity disparity between services may stem from differing requirements for mandatory physical training. Only 10 percent of Air Force respondents reported participating in mandatory physical training, while majorities of the other services reported participating in physical training, found the researchers.

Implementation of exercise standards should be made more consistent across the services, suggested the researchers. "Required physical training appears to be a highly effective method for increasing overall levels of physical activity, especially for military members working sedentary jobs," said Harrison.

The researchers also asked respondents to name potential motivators of higher exercise levels. Those who were not exercising identified ribbons or medals, certificates, unit commander recognition, time allowances, money and points toward promotion as potential motivating factors.

In addition to more convenient fitness center hours, modern exercise equipment and child care provision, programs are needed to emphasize fitness benefits such as personal development and increased job performance, according to the researchers. "The role of fitness centers in overall quality of life should be promoted more," concluded Harrison.
This study was supported by a grant from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The American Journal of Health Promotion is a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the field of health promotion. For information about the journal call 248-682-0707 or visit the journal's website at

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