The Space Force announced Thursday it will conduct a two-year testing period on wearable fitness trackers as part of its newly unveiled fitness policy.
The service will start the assessment of wearable technology this month, and use will be voluntary, according to a press release. It will work with the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop the guidelines for the wearable devices, with the aim of regularly monitoring fitness and wellness of Guardians.
Those who opt in will not be required to take the old fitness assessment that included push-ups, sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run.
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"The Air Force Research Laboratory is proud to work with the U.S. Space Force to ensure that Guardians receive a highly effective, safe, and secure fitness assessment capability," Dr. James Christensen, a lab product line lead, said in a statement.
In 2022, Space Force leaders promised to unveil a revolutionary fitness program called the Holistic Health Approach that would use fitness wearables -- similar to Apple Watches or Fitbits -- to help track exercise, diet and sleep instead of using a physical test like the other services have embraced for decades.
But progress on that program and details of how it will work had not been fully disclosed until Thursday, when Space Force officials released the memo detailing the structure of the program.
It will be composed of three elements: the voluntary Continuous Fitness Assessment study, which involves wearable fitness technology; Performance Health Optimization, which includes preventive medicine; and Education, which is aimed at teaching Guardians good health habits.
"All three components of the Holistic Health Approach are critical to promoting Guardian health," said Katharine Kelley, the deputy chief of space operations for human capital. "This is intended to motivate service members to participate in year-round physical fitness to promote positive short- and long-term health outcomes, consistent optimal levels of physical fitness, and encourage an enduring high quality of life."
Military.com reported last year that there were worries among Guardians that the Space Force's new fitness program's data tracking would lead to micromanagement and punishment for not working out enough, despite being pitched as a nonpunitive program.
Guardians also expressed fears that their personal data could be used against them.
Wearables such as smart watches have raised privacy and security concerns throughout the military. In 2018, a Department of Defense memo asked service members in deployed areas and at high-profile bases not to use their fitness trackers for fear of revealing compromising location data to adversaries.
"The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications and services with geolocation capabilities presents significant risk to DoD personnel both on and off duty, and to our military operations globally," the 2018 memo said.
The Space Force said Thursday that it has addressed those worries and has guidelines for those involved with the volunteer tracking program.
"The Space Force has addressed data security and privacy concerns regarding the use of wearable devices to monitor fitness by ensuring all metrics collected from Guardians will be only fitness related; participants are only required to wear their device during purposeful physical activity, and all other use is optional," the press release said. "Guardians will also be instructed how to disable GPS on the wearable device so no unintended GPS data is captured."
Guardians who choose not to opt-in to the program will be required to take the old physical fitness test by no later than Sept. 30, 2023. If a Guardian withdraws or is removed from the program, they will have to do a traditional fitness test by Sept. 30, 2023, or no later than the last day of December if it's past that date.
Additionally, Guardian Resilience Teams -- groups of coaches and experts dedicated to health and fitness -- will be stood up at every Space Force base, the National Capital Region and Joint Base San Antonio, according to the memo. Those Guardians located in areas that are ineligible to sign up for the volunteer fitness tracking program must complete the traditional test no later than Sept. 30, 2023.
Meanwhile, the military as a whole is also finding new uses for wearable fitness trackers.
Military.com reported earlier this month that the Pentagon is expanding the use of wearable fitness trackers to help predict outbreaks of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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