Cover: Physical Fitness and Resilience

Physical Fitness and Resilience

A Review of Relevant Constructs, Measures, and Links to Well-Being

Published Oct 3, 2013

by Sean Robson


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Research Questions

  1. What are the current physical fitness constructs in the scientific literature?
  2. What are the different methods available for measuring physical activity?
  3. Is there evidence for any relationship between physical activity, health, well-being, and stress?
  4. What initiatives would promote physical fitness, particularly among U.S. Airmen and their families?

This report is one of a series designed to support Air Force leaders in promoting resilience among its Airmen, civilian employees, and Air Force family members. It examines the relationship between physical fitness and resilience, using key constructs found in the scientific literature that address work-related physical fitness and health-related physical fitness. Supporting or increasing the levels of physical fitness identified in this report may facilitate resilience and can protect Airmen, civilian employees, and Air Force families from the negative effects of stress. The report also reviews interventions designed to promote physical fitness applicable at the individual, unit, family, and community levels.

Key Findings

Physical fitness is a key factor that can affect an individual's resilience and readiness to perform military duties.

  • Physical activity may help an individual to successfully cope with the stress of military duty.
  • Low physical fitness is related to an increased risk of injuries in basic combat training.
  • There is a clear relationship between physical activity and health outcomes.
  • Sedentary living increases the likelihood of many negative outcomes and chronic health conditions, such as breast cancer, depression, hypertension, and coronary heart disease.
  • Objective measures, such as accelerometers, are more reliable tools for measuring physical activity than questionnaires that rely on self-reported levels of physical activity.


  • Efforts should be made to evaluate the effectiveness of any physical fitness intervention.
  • Interventions should take into account gender, age, ethnicity, and region when examining the activity needs of various groups.
  • Evaluations should identify factors that cause individuals to adopt, maintain, or withdraw from physical activity.
  • It should be recognized that individuals who smoke, experience stress at home, or are at risk for cardiovascular disease are less likely to start exercising, and these factors should be taken into consideration by decisionmakers.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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