By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Acclimating to the altitude in Colorado Springs can take several months, but even after the acclimation period fitness assessment scores can still suffer.
Effective Jan. 1, Airmen taking a fitness assessment will have an altitude adjustment added to their run or walk time.
“It applies to any of the bases that are over 5,000 feet,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Brembah, Air Force Space Command’s command functional for food, fitness and lodging.
The Air Force Academy’s Human Performance Laboratory initiated a study of the cardio-respiratory performance at sea level versus 7,200 feet, the altitude at the Academy.
“Due to atmospheric pressure, there is a significant difference in oxygen content at sea level (26.5 percent) than there is at 7,200 feet (20.9 percent),” said A.L. Wile, director of the Human Performance Laboratory. “The (Colorado Altitude Tent) gives us the capability to simulate 26.5 percent oxygen content at sea level and test our subjects in both environments.”
The test was conducted with 55 non-smoking male and female participants who had lived in Colorado Springs for at least six weeks. The participants each ran 1.5 miles in the CAT, which can simulate both sea level and high-altitude oxygen content.
Distance was the only known factor for the subjects as the two atmospheric pressure conditions were randomized, Wile said. The overall average difference in run times for all subjects was 30 seconds.
The altitude adjustment was removed from the fitness assessment in 2010, said Bernadette Borders, former AFSPC command functional for food, fitness and lodging. “The only reason it went away in 2010 was because of the changes that were coming into the Air Force instruction and into the run times. At that point it was determined that they needed to take a look at the altitude adjustments that they had,” she said.
The six bases at an altitude over 5,000 feet are divided into three different adjustment groups. The Academy is in group one and gets the most adjustment. Peterson AFB, Schriever AFB, Colo., and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., are in group two. Kirtland AFB, N.M., and Buckley AFB, Colo., in group three have the least adjustment.
At Peterson, the adjustment starts at 11 seconds and increases as the run time increases. An Airman running a 12 minute mile and a half would have 15 seconds taken off for an official time of 11:45.
“Those few seconds can take you from good to an excellent and could determine whether you’ll test one time a year or twice a year,” said Borders.
The adjustment for the walk time is based on a VO2 usage calculation, Brembah said.
Updated charts with minimum component values and the altitude adjustment are available as part of AFI 36-2905 Fitness Program.