HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Airmen from the 649th Munitions Squadron and other units at Hill Air Force Base are taking part in a physical fitness research project to discern if wearable technology could replace the Air Force’s annual fitness test.
Airmen in the study were given a pretest, and then given a Garmin smart watch that will monitor fitness levels and collect vital signs such as heart rate, respiration and temperature. They will also wear an Oura smart ring that monitors sleep. They will be monitored for 16 weeks, then given a posttest to measure progress.
“The question is, can wearable technology assess physical activity on a regular basis and can that lead to maintaining fitness levels such that we don’t have to test Airmen once or twice a year,” said Neal Baumgartner, chief of the Air Force’s Exercise Science Unit at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.
Ideally, the technology will motivate and remind Airmen to continuously remain active and healthy, and encourage them to get better sleep. The benefits for continuous exercise are excellent and that it’s important that Airmen exercise regularly throughout the year rather than “cram” for a fitness test once a year, according to James Christensen, Air Force Research Laboratory.
“There is a certain human tendency that if you’re only going to be tested once a year, then maybe you’re not working out most of the year and then you work out hard for a month to prepare for your test,” Christensen said. “There are health and mental benefits to working out consistently and being in good shape most of the time.”
About 130 Hill Airmen of various fitness levels were selected for the study.
“We were looking for a variety of fitness levels,” said 2nd Lt. Jennifer Newell, 649th MUNS Material Flight commander. “We selected some of the fittest Airmen in the squadron and some of our struggling Airmen and everywhere in between.”
The study began Oct. 1, and Newell said she has already seen success with the devices.
“I am very optimistic,” she said.
Newell said Hill was chosen for the study because of the unit’s relationship with the AFRL and a previous study using similar technology. The Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure study uses smart watches and rings to analyze data sent by the devices in an effort to recognize an infection or virus around 48 hours before the onset of symptoms.
“The AFRL Beta Test and RATE study are part of the squadron’s strategy to take better care of Airmen and implement General Brown’s action orders to ‘Accelerate Change or Lose’,” said Lt. Col. Naomi Franchetti, 649th MUNS commander.