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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The most “complex system on a battlefield” — the human body — usually is the least understood, senior leaders and master fitness trainers learned Friday during a seminar at Yongsan.

Col. Thomas Williams, director of the Army Physical Fitness Research Institute at the Army War College, gave the “health and fitness” seminar.

Armed with more than 20 years of statistics gathered from War College students — both active duty and civilian — he geared his message Friday to the “over-40” crowd.

“If you’re not there yet, you will be soon enough,” he said. And the over-40 soldiers are those leading the younger troops. He stressed repeatedly throughout the 90-minute presentation that it’s “not too late” or “too early” to make lifestyle changes.

Before 1980, the military thought physical training was “too dangerous” for those older than 40, Williams said. “My, how the world has changed,” he said.

In 1982, the Army formed his institute to develop a comprehensive physical fitness program. War College students find physical fitness a major component of the yearlong course.

They are taught that to succeed physically, mentally, spiritually and professionally, they need to understand stressors — which include combat, family separation and deployments — and things that complement stress — including their own aging, caring for older parents, disease risk and raising teenagers.

Williams flashed several slides with alarming national statistics showing the ever-increasing obesity rates in the States. One slide stated that 50 percent of youth 12 to 21 years old are “not vigorously active.”

“This is where the future of the Army is coming from,” he said, pausing on a slide that color-coded states based on their obesity rates. Not one state registered below a 20 percent obesity rate.

Some “123 million Americans” are overweight, he said. And poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle kill 300,000 Americans annually. He said that while the risk for heart disease starts at about age 40 for men, risk is accumulating “in your 20s and 30s.” Make change now, he said, because “you don’t want to wait until you have heart disease.”

“The most complicated system on a battlefield is your body,” he said. But he told the audience that more soldiers know how to care for their M-16s than for their bodies.

He outlined risk factors that can be changed, including hypertension, diabetes, smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.

As for smoking, Williams described the nicotine molecule as a “small razor blade tumbling through the arteries,” making microscopic nicks and cuts.

“If you smoke, please try to quit,” he said.

He also urged soldiers to think of their bodies as logistics depots and food as supplies. You don’t want the supplies to come in at day’s end because you’ll just have to store them overnight, he told his audience — but that’s what happens when people skip meals, then eat a big dinner late at night.

“As your belt size goes up,” Williams said, “so does your risk for … heart disease.”


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