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Importance of Physical Fitness

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Effectiveness of any person in his area of work requires him to be physically, and mentally fit but the dimension of his physical fitness may vary, but to maintain both the physical and mental fitness is the most crucial aspect in a first ever chapter that marks the beginning of a life of our forces. In no other profession than in our military organization, bestowed with the duty to defend our nation, we require what is known as ‘Tough minds and Sound bodies’.

Despite of highly technological equipments, weapons and other military gadgets always at the disposal of an army officer yet nothing can substitute physical fitness every officer and soldier has to endure to face all odds. He can be placed in a situation where no equipment can reach; at such a crucial moment it is only his physical and mental fitness that would induce in him a spirit to fight and in future too it is his own mental abilities and strength that would beat all scientific gadgets to take him across all odds.

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What is exact definition of fitness? In 1994, Bouchard and Shepard gave a model explaining the relationship between physical activity, health, and fitness that was to be presented at the International Consensus Conference of Physical Activity, Fitness and Health and posited before the audience the definition of fitness as “matching of the individual to his or her physical and social environment,” (Institute of Medicine (U.S), Committee on Body Composition, Nutrition & Health of Military Women, Institute of Medicine (U.S.) 1998, p. 62) and considered performance and health as two criteria for fitness.

The benefits of physical fitness are best described by former President John F. Kennedy, “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies”. (United States Air Force, AF Pamphlet 50-56: USAF Aerobics, 1966, p. 1)

The importance of physical fitness in our lives was made felt to us by our ancestors and the most primitive cultures for whom maintaining physical fitness was a prerequisite element for survival. Men among primitive cultures developed the healthy bodies through their daily physical activities they had to perform like hunting, gathering of food, fighting the wild animals and enemies and natural calamities. On the other hand, men had to keep themselves physically fit to face all odds in their day-to-day lives and in leading their nomadic way of life. Greeks too believed, “there could be no health of the mind, unless the body was cared for.” (Busis 2006) They held physical fitness in highest regard and related the human physique to the development of mind. They correlated the development of the training of the physical body to the moral values and considered the physical fitness as their highest ideals.

Hippocrates portrayed what lay behind their physical training, as “that which is used, develops; that which is not used, wastes away”.  (Morgan Online Edition)They believed to have developed the methods of their training like that of the wrestler Milo of Croton who, according to the legend became most powerful by walking several miles with a calf on his shoulders every day until the day the calf became an adult bovine. (Morgan Online Edition)

The Renaissance period too was a witness of interest deeply reflected among the creative world and scientists for the physical fitness as the main prerequisite of a man.  They developed insight into the various traits of human body for e.g. painting of the Vitruvian Man, with notes added by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490. The painting showed a naked male and his physical disposition is shown as a proportionate male body with a mixture of scientific thoughts and artistic endeavors. During the entire14th and 15th century literature and art emphasized on various means of physical activities for overall physical fitness. Many intellectuals like Martin Luther, John Locke, Vittorino da Feltra, John Comenius, and Richard Mulcaster too laid much emphasis on the fitness along with learning process.

Physically unfit soldiers not only put their lives at risk but make the task difficult for their comrades too. The power of unfit soldier gets reduced if he has to expose himself at extreme heat; has greater chance of severe sun burns, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and stroke and if a soldier is not in a shape, it would be almost impossible for him to endure extreme cold weather conditions and heavy terrain at the highest altitudes. All the soldiers whether they are active or come under reserve category have to always keep themselves prepared for war. Policy of Army entitles the soldiers and officers to fruitfully complete their war time Mission Essential Task List (METL). In every physical training program, soldiers are trained to achieve METL.

         In any unit of artillery, one METL task that could demand physical fitness could be loading of 202 pound, eight inch, explosive projector into a howizter. In a fighting unit, METL list could include among others the task of replacing, removing, repairing track pad on a disable M1 tank, and airborne infantry METL could also involve the activity including, “On order, parachute at night with a full combat load from a C-141 jet aircraft, then move on a foot to find, close with, and kill the enemy.”  (Rush, 2006, p. 70)

Army faces risk in operations through two major sources, firstly from the unpredicted activities from enemies, and second from the unpredicted environment. History is replete with cases that environment had marred and completely destroyed several battalions. For e.g. winters in Russia had been responsible for the downfall of the many invading armies. At sea, the winds had been responsible for drowning entire fleets. During the efforts to rescue US citizens from the island of Grenade in 1983, four Navy Seal team members lost their lives when they had to jump into coastal waters at night during marginal weather conditions. (National Academy of Engineering Committee on Environmental Information for Naval, 2003, p. 51).

The importance of physical fitness was realized during the Korean War after the World War II when America considered as the most powerful nation in terms of military strength was just reduced from eight million soldiers to mere 600,000 soldiers and the Army divisions too shrunk in number from 89 to 10 divisions. Both their training and readiness greatly got a severe set back and therefore when they had to face the North Korean soldiers during their invasion over South Korea; America’s forces were really not ready and were taken aback by the sudden attack. All the soldiers posted at the time on the duty were unequipped, physically unfit and less trained. By the sudden attack of the North Korean tanks, 185 young soldiers lost their lives. They were nowhere equal to the fully prepared North Koreans. (Lt. Col. Vance & Morris 1998) During three years of warfare, American soldiers had to trudge through the snow and had to give a tough stand against the bitter cold. All the above examples and many more are the clear witnesses to the fact that there is no place for unfit soldier in military services.

Besides, we should not forget our deep forests where most of the combat operations take place. When a soldier passes through dense forests, what he has to experience is a nightmare for us but for a soldier, it is the biggest ever challenge he has to overcome to survive and help his fellow soldiers. A real test of a physical fitness of a soldier is seen when he is walking several kilometers at a stretch without any human habitation anywhere at site, and sweat is dripping all over his face. In the name of life, insects welcome him and at every step, he does not know whether he will live or not. His boots sink inside the mud and his legs are covered with spiders. And when he is going to reach his unit, he almost collapses. It is not just one soldier but several military operations are undertaken in this scenario.

With these examples there is no doubt left that to what extent physical fitness is important for military officers. It is impossible for unfit officer or soldier to tolerate such extreme conditions of these gravest nature and adverse conditions. There are five components of fitness level giving the soldiers aptitude and ability to deal with any emergency like stamina to maintain Cardio-respiratory function like proper functioning of nutrient level and proper removal of waste materials, secondly is the muscular strength  involving physical force at a speed of lightening, at a third level is a muscular endurance bearing an ability to take on repeated tasks and movements, fourthly is the flexibility which entails moving with comfort joints of a body corresponding with the entire body movement and fifth is the proper composition of body according to the body height and age which is proportionate to the muscles of the bones and tissues. (Rush, 2006, p. 71) We can also describe physical fitness which involves freedom from any form of defect or disease, strong body to perform heavy tasks like encountering combat operations, routine and emergency activities, and considerable degree of leg, back, abdominal, and arm and shoulder girdle strength. Every soldier also must have stamina and will power to tolerate prolonged duty hours requiring leg work including long marches, and duties at battle grounds. They must possess with an ability to change the direction of their body with the speed enabling the soldiers to fall at the ground or leap forward quickly and take a fraction of a second to jump into the fox hole or into a trench hiding from the sudden bursts of machine guns. This agility or flexibility of a body is of a greater importance when one has to enter into hand to hand fighting and could be developed by exercises that require constant and fast change of position, and by various games, sports meet, or combat activities. There is no way to judge flexibility level of a soldier, only field tests can be conducted to test the flexibility level in the hamstring and low-back areas and a soldier can test it himself by simply performing toe-touch small exercise.

Even performing of stretching exercises enable soldiers to have a flexible body. There are four types of stretching techniques including “static, passive, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), and ballistic”. (Army.com Online Edition)

There should also be a coordination of all body parts in combat operations. With a coordinated body, as dictated in FM 21-20 War Department Field Manual, Physical Training, “superfluous movements are eliminated, precision and accuracy are increased, energy is conserved, and endurance increased”. (Walker 2002)

The maintenance of body composition among both the men and women in the military services in America is getting more importance by United States Army. Being obese is considered to be unfit. In selection process, candidates who show their overall fitness level with mental ability to overcome all obstacles are desired and in training process, efforts are made to build the balance between the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. Army has laid down certain standard body fat composition on the basis of which selections are conducted and training schedules are made. (Hodgdon, 1992, p. 57)

A study was conducted to bring out the effects artillery operations have on physical fitness capacity of soldiers and on their performance level. In the study, it was also estimated the intensity of the operation with the monitoring of heart rate. A Department of Defense directive, USA (1308.1) directed every soldier to possess strength and stamina to overcome any mission and made it mandatory in every United States military service to form a quality fitness program that may include combat effectiveness and readiness.

Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) is essential for every soldier whether he is in army, active army, Army National Guard, or Army Reserve irrespective of his age. The test evaluates person’s muscular endurance and cardio respiratory (CR) fitness. It is the easiest way to monitor and judge soldiers’ complete knack over his body including his muscle movements and CR system.

This physical fitness test involves weight checking, push-ups, sit-ups and running for two miles. The standard mention in the table below is the minimum requirement of male soldiers of ages between the years 22 -26. (Strong Online)

Body Composition
(2 Minutes)
(2 minutes)
2 Mile Run
16:36 min
(Table 1, Source: Strong Online)

If the members are found to be more than their original weight then they are measured for their percentage body fat.

The evaluation of the Navy officers are conducted two times in a year which follow checking of weights, sit and reach flexibility test, sit-ups (curl-ups), push-ups and a running for 1.5 miles. (Strong Online) The diagram below shows the standard for males between the ages of 20-29:

Body Composition
Sit and Reach
(2 minutes)
(2 minutes)
1.5 Mile Run
13:45 min
(Table 2, Source: Strong Online)

The evaluation of the marine fitness level is also conducted 2 times in a year. This test involves pull-ups, sit-ups and a running of 3 miles. It is compulsory for every mariner below the age of 46 to join in the testing process. The standard in the following table is for the males who are between the ages of 17 to 26.  (Strong Online)

Body Composition
(2 minutes)
3 Mile Run
28 minutes
(Table 3, Source: Strong Online)

Air Force conducts an annual fitness evaluation to motivate its members to participate in the all round fitness programs. This program requires every member to complete a cycle ergometer test one time during a year. The standard table below is the minimum requirements for males between the age group of 25 to 19.

Body Composition
Cycle Ergometer
34 ML/KG-min
(Table 4, Source: Strong Online)

With physical exercises, proper nutrition is too required for maintaining physical fitness. A soldier requires variety of food in his diet and needs to have three meals in a day. Even proper snacks between their meals can enrich his nutritious level with enough calories to get energy without disturbing the body balance. But a diet should be chosen which is low in fat, saturated fat and or cholesterol.

                          (Figure 1: Malvesti Obstacle. Source: Military Channel Online)

Among all, the training of rangers has always been very rough and tough and they have to keep their physical fitness level 10 percent above the normal level. Amidst the training includes the push-ups and pull-ups and they have to prove themselves stronger than the standards fixed by the army. The ranger battalion began in 1942 with its establishment at Achnacarry, Scotland and its activities started on 19th June 1942, at Carrickfergus, Ireland. They had to overcome and cross many obstacles like The Malvesti Obstacle Course and only two attempts were allowed for the team to get qualified. Effective leadership is a must to bring about best in the physical training program and it is most important for the leaders to grasp the new Army doctrine of physical fitness and follow it with full letter and spirit.

(Figure 2: Push-ups / Pull-ups, Source: Military Channel Online)

There is no doubt of the fact that women are not lacking behind in their willingness to show their military might and stamina. Women have to endure more hardships than men owing to less physical power but the stress level of women is more than that of men. If we look back at the facts, we would find out women were being inflicted with more injuries than men. The stress fractures among women have been 2 to 10 times higher than that of men.  (Institute of Medicine (U.S), Committee on Body Composition, Nutrition & Health of Military Women, Institute of Medicine (U.S.),1998, p. 243)

Report on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces from the Presidential Commission reflected the fact that, “the average female Army recruit is 4.8 inches shorter, 31.7 pounds lighter, has weight of 37.4 fewer pounds of muscle, and 5.7 more pounds of fat than the average male recruit. She has only 55 percent of the upper-body strength and 72 percent of the lower-body strength…and the studies conducted by the army on 124 men and 186 women draw the conclusion that women have to suffer two times more from leg injuries and five times stress fractures as men.” (Reed online Edition)

The report of the commission too revealed that women were more non-deployable than men basically due to pregnancy, or during operations of Desert shield or storms.

But several cases are also witness of the fact that proper physical training to women has motivated several of women to show their share of bravery. Many female members are engaging in combat operations. They have to keep themselves always slim.

As Military service and military training demand synonymity, Willard L. Nash, a military historian, has rightly said, “Military training is not designed to enhance the militaristic spirit, it builds men up physically… It renders both the individual and nation better able to defend themselves… No nation has ever survived, and no nation will survive whose people are not physically, mentally, and morally fit for survival. In military training highly efficient methods are employed for maintaining health and building up physical fitness.” (Nash, 1972, p. 52)

Now the United States is spending millions of dollars for the successful implementation of various physical fitness programs for its soldiers and officers. It is quite obvious, as the nation’s security lies in the hands of our armed forces and if they are not physically fit then the whole nation will be under jeopardy.


Army.com. APFT: Flexibility. Retrieved on July 26, 2008 from W.W.W: http://www.army.com/enlist/apft/flexibility.html

Busis, D. (2006). From the Ancient Greeks to Yoga Chic. Retrieved on July 26, 2008 from W.W.W: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200611u/exercise-flashback

Hodgdon J. A. (1992). Body Composition in Military Services: Standards and Methods in Body Composition and Physical Performance. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press.

Institute of Medicine (U.S), Committee on Body Composition, Nutrition & Health of Military Women, Institute of Medicine (U.S.). (1998). Assessing Readiness in Military Women: The Relationship of Body Composition, Nutrition and Health. Washington: National Academies Press.
Lt. Col. Vance, T. J. & Morris, B. 1998. Remembering the Heroes of America’s Forgotten War. Retrieved on July 26, 2008 from W.W.W: http://www4.army.mil/otf/speech.php?story_id_key=2575

Morgan J. The Evolution of Physical Fitness. Retrieved on July 26, 2008 from     W.W.W: http://www.fitness-nutrition-weightloss.com/the-evolution-of-physical-fitness.html
Nash, W. L. (1972) Military Science and Tactics and Physical Education. New York: AMS Press
National Academy of Engineering Committee on Environmental
Information for Naval Use & Committee on Environmental Information for Naval Use. 2003. Environmental Information for Naval Warfare. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press.
Reed, F. Women In Combat: Facts From A Closet. Retrieved on July 26, 2008 from W.W.W: http://www.fredoneverything.net/MilMed.shtml

Rush, R. S. (2006). Enlisted Soldier’s Guide. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.
United States Air Force, AF Pamphlet 50-56: USAF Aerobics. (1966). Washington DC.
Walker, D. (2002). FM 21-20 War Department Field Manual, Physical Training, Chapter I, Introduction. Journal Of Non-Lethal Combatives. Retrieved on July 26, 2008 from W.W.W: http://ejmas.com/jnc/jncart_fm21-20_1102.htm


Source of Table: 1, 2, 3 & 4.

Strong, G.R. Descriptive Comparisons of United States Military Physical Fitness Programs
ISSN: 1543-9518. . Retrieved on July 26, 2008 from W.W.W: http://www.thesportjournal.org/article/descriptive-comparisons-united-states-military-physical-fitness-programs

Source of Figures:

Military Channel. 2008. Retrieved on July 26, 2008 from W.W.W:



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Importance of Physical Fitness. (2016, Oct 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/importance-of-physical-fitness/

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