This story was updated March 10 at 1:30 p.m. to include new information from the Space Force.
The Space Force plans to roll out a pilot program for year-round physical fitness within the next two months, the service’s top enlisted official said Tuesday.
The newest branch of the armed forces is betting a more holistic approach to health can be smarter than the usual focus on annual testing. Armed with wearable fitness devices like Oura Rings and Garmin watches, the service plans to monitor the glut of cardiorespiratory data — like how many steps they log each day — that can paint a picture of a guardian’s overall well-being.
Guardians will be able to opt into the new health tracking regime within the next two months, Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force Roger Towberman told reporters at an Air and Space Forces Association conference in Colorado.
“I think we’ll have something on the street, hopefully, within the next 30 days or so. It’s taking time because we’ve got to get it right,” he said.
The service hopes its idea can curb the overuse injuries and eating disorders that can stem from annual fitness tests. And it wants to emphasize the link between physical and mental health to have a well-rounded workforce and cut down on health care costs.
“This program will promote not just physical fitness; it will pair fitness with robust education on diet, sleep hygiene and other physiological factors to promote social, mental and spiritual health as well,” then-Space Force personnel boss Patricia Mulcahy added in a March 2022 memo to guardians.
Because space operations entail more desk work — like sitting at a satellite control console or monitoring missile launch data on a computer — than other military missions, Space Force officials want to prioritize general wellness instead of judging members on specific strength and endurance exercises.
The service said Friday it is no longer working with the company FitRankings to devise its system for tracking progress.
“The USSF is leveraging the Air Force Research [Laboratory] to assess guardians’ physical fitness and to identify metrics in determining when guardians need additional fitness support,” spokesperson Maj. Tanya Downsworth said.
Towberman has said the service is looking for “helpful, meaningful investment in guardians instead of disciplinary, punitive intervention because they quietly were failing for six months.”
Still, some critics have raised concerns about data security and personal privacy in a hyperconnected system.
“Protecting the data is important. There’s an amount of rigor here that’s required, and we’re being very careful, very deliberate as we walk through policy … so that we can make sure that we do it right,” Towberman said.
Because the Space Force falls under the Department of the Air Force, some of the air service’s fitness requirements still apply. For instance, guardians must pass a new benchmark for body composition — a height-to-waist ratio — that will be enforced starting in April.
The Space Force is also launching so-called Guardian Resilience Teams to help struggling members with preventive health care, goal-setting and skill-building, and spiritual needs.
“We hope the new body composition program and associated holistic health educational resources will inspire our members to move away from an episodic fitness mentality to putting their health first every day,” said Katharine Kelly, the Space Force’s personnel chief.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.