The United States Space Force announced that the military branch will forego annual fitness assessments and instead wear fitness devices tracking the guardians’ physical and mental health beginning in 2023.
Guardians have undergone an annual fitness assessment similar to Air Force members. But now, with the new approach, guardians will wear a smart ring or other wearable fitness devices, likely manufactured by Garmin and Oura.
The new method could change how military leaders evaluate service members in the future while still adhering to high performance levels.
“This program will promote not just physical fitness,” Patricia Mulcahy, the Space Force deputy chief of space operations for personnel, wrote in a memo reviewed by NPR. “It will pair fitness with robust education on diet, sleep hygiene, and other physiological factors to promote social, mental and spiritual health as well.”
Chief Master Sergeant James Seballes, senior enlisted leader for Space Force’s Training and Readiness Command, told NPR that the devices would not only maintain fitness goals, but the technology would also offer more analysis of the guardians’ activity.
“Our standards really haven’t changed, right? We still are utilizing the Air Force [physical training] standards,” Seballes. “The difference is in our approach.”
He said fitness has often been used as a “go, no-go kind of thing.”
“You either have it, or you don’t,” he said. “I’ve known folks that can do all their [physical training] aspects and run a really fast mile and a half, but yet their eating habits are poor.”
“Their sleeping habits are poor. They’re not healthy,” Seballes added.
Patrick Hitchins, CEO of Austin-based FitRankings, which is building that platform for the Space Force, told NPR the tests have some dimensionality that favors one activity over others.
Maj. Gen. Shawn Bratton, commander of Space Training and Readiness Command, said, according to the Daily Mail, that he favors the modern digital approach, believing that it might encourage service members to take care of their health more.
“There’s increased responsibility on me, not just once a year to take a fitness test, for example, but maybe to exercise 90 minutes a week,” Bratton told NPR. “The ring helps me keep track of that as well as my sleep patterns.”
NPR reports the decision to change the branch’s fitness model comes after research showed some military members developed eating disorders or other behaviors depleting their health.
Lindsay Bodell, assistant professor of psychology at Western University in Ontario, told NPR that service members who fail to meet the military requirements could lead to unhealthy and extreme behaviors.
“Some of the negative consequences might just be kind of preoccupation with certain exercise regimes or fixation on numbers,” Bodell said. “Which could end up getting in the way of other activities.”
Until the new health assessment model replaces the old next year, the latest branch of the military’s 8,400 members must undergo one minute of pushups, situps, and a timed 1.5-mile run.