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Simple lifestyle changes can lead to a fitter, healthier you

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Airman Reginald Cummings, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron integrated flight control systems apprentice, stretches before a football practice, Aug. 26.  Stretching before and after sports related exercises can reduce the possibility of injury. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Anthony Sanchelli)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Airman Reginald Cummings, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron integrated flight control systems apprentice, stretches before a football practice, Aug. 26. Stretching before and after sports related exercises can reduce the possibility of injury. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Anthony Sanchelli)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Have you fallen into a rut? Do you need to make a change? I had and I did.

I needed to improve my health and stop struggling with the physical training test. I also felt that I needed to do a better job of setting an example for maintaining the fitness standards I enforce. I will not provide any easy answers, but I am proof that achieving a healthy lifestyle can be done if you are ready.

When I joined the Air Force 20 years ago, I was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds. As with most of us, my ability to eat anything and maintain my weight went away as I got older. I also established a lot of bad habits over those years.

When the Air Force introduced the PT program, my perception of it was positive and I thought it would motivate me to get in better shape. Instead, I ended up struggling with my PT tests and even had a couple failures over the years while I continued to put on weight. I was lucky when I was stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to be in a squadron that did PT three times a week and yet, my struggles continued. I put in effort, but my waist and poor eating habits were killing my health and scores. After my permanent change of station to Ellsworth, I got lazy and my weight increased to 205 pounds.

I knew it was time to change last August as I began preparing for my upcoming PT test. I realized I needed a lifestyle change. No fad diet or 60-90-day exercise routine was going to fix me. I needed to find a long-term solution by making adjustments that would last.

With this determination, my days of eating fast food, large portions and poor workout habits are gone. I started to see some improvement early enough in September when I scored my highest score yet on my PT test, but my waist size was 38.5 inches. Since then, I've seen more drastic differences in my shape.

I started eating much healthier and found a workout routine I enjoyed. I can't remember the last time I ate fast food, and other than occasional days of cheating on my healthy habits, I've made a lifestyle change I can realistically commit myself to for the long haul.

I didn't find it very difficult, either, and I didn't overcomplicate things by trying to count calories or measure portion sizes. I simply reduced the amount of food, fat and salt I eat. If I snack, I eat fruits and vegetables, and I rarely snack after dinner. I increased the amount of time I spent exercising to six days a week for, at most, an hour each day.

For me, the solution was to exercise with kettle bells three times a week, and then run three times a week. It could be something different for you. I believe in order to succeed at the PT test, you not only need to run, but you need to run further than 1.5 miles. I also believe any routine you pick needs to contain some elements to strengthen your core.

I'm not an expert and did my research mostly online to find my solutions. I believe we all can do that. By finding your own solutions, you will be able to find things you like and not be forced or guided to do things you don't. This will increase your ability to continue your new habits and keep them up by having a long-term or lifelong solution.

I have seen many of my friends and co-workers go on diets to lose a lot of weight fast, and I have always thought there were some drawbacks to losing weight so quickly. Fad diets are designed to be short-term and don't teach lasting habits. Some of these fad diets can also be dangerous. I was happy and patient about weeks of losing only one or two pounds, because I still recognized the weight loss, and I maintained a high level of energy.

The differences I've seen in my fitness from August 2010 to March 2011 include a weight loss of 45 pounds, an 80-point reduction in my cholesterol, and an increase in my PT score of 16 points! My PT results from six months ago were a 38.5-inch waist totaling 13.5 points, 46 push-ups for a total of nine points, 54 crunches for 10 points, and a 12.22-minute run time for 49.2 points. This added up to an overall score of 81.7 percent.

In contrast, my March 2011 results were a 32-inch waist for 20 points, 57 push-ups for 10 points, 54 crunches for 10 points and a 10.23-minute run time for 57.9 points. My score was 97.9. While testing, I stopped at the maximum required amount of push-ups and crunches with plenty of time left on the clock.

I had done some aggressive interval training the month prior to my PT test in order to cut down my run time, and I modified my fitness goals as I saw improvements. I started off wanting a run time of less than 12 minutes. When I realized that wouldn't be a challenge after running the 1.5-mile distance in 11 minutes and 12 seconds for practice, I decided my new goal would be to run it in less than 11 minutes. I never thought I would run as fast as I did on my PT test, but I can see running even faster.

Even more important than those PT results, though, is the overall improvement of my health. I had to stop making excuses for not living a healthy lifestyle and instead, start making healthy choices I enjoy and can continue long term.

I have been asked what I did to achieve the health results I now have. Often my answer isn't popular, because I don't give an easy one. There was no magic weight-loss pill, no quick weight-loss diet and no short-term workout program. I had to work, put in the effort and I am better for it.

My challenge now is to continue down this path. Can I get 100 points on what will be my final PT test before retirement? I am happy to pass on my lessons to other Airmen and would love to be able to help those who want it. Feel free to contact me if you want any more specific tips to improve your lifestyle by making some healthy changes.

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