ArmyFit's self-development website gets useful upgrades

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ArmyFit celebrated its first birthday recently, with the addition of several new features to its website, https://armyfit.army.mil, designed to help improve quality of life for Soldiers, families and Army civilians. A user is shown exploring the website.  Photo by David Vergun
ArmyFit celebrated its first birthday recently, with the addition of several new features to its website, https://armyfit.army.mil, designed to help improve quality of life for Soldiers, families and Army civilians. A user is shown exploring the website. Photo by David Vergun

ArmyFit's self-development website gets useful upgrades

by: David Vergun | .
U.S. Army | .
published: February 24, 2015

WASHINGTON (Feb. 20, 2015) -- ArmyFit celebrated its first birthday recently, with the addition of several new features to its website. The site, at armyfit.army.mil, is designed to help improve quality of life for Soldiers, families and Army civilians.

New features include email notifications and a fitness-tracker interface. But first, a quick overview of the site for those not familiar with it:

ArmyFit is primarily a resource site, a "really, really good resource site," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Stephen W. Austin, a program developer for the Army Resiliency Directorate, G-1, the organization responsible for collecting and posting the content.

Although the website is not interactive in the way gaming sites are, it is innovative because it is able to custom-tailor content specifically for each person, based on their answers to the Global Assessment Tool, more commonly referred to as GAT 2.0. The GAT is a survey Soldiers are required to take annually. Family members and Army civilians are also encouraged to take it, he said.

Based on GAT 2.0, the website directs Soldiers to helpful resources within the physical, spiritual, emotional, family and social resilience categories, he said. The performance triad categories of sleep, activity and nutrition are included as well. The website can also connect the user with appropriate social media groups.

Among the new features is an option to receive weekly emails, which provide custom tips and updates on new content. Austin said this saves the user time in that they do not need to log in to see if there is new content available.

For instance, an email might provide a nutrition tip for fitness gurus. A recent one was titled "Muscle Up With Milk." It reads:

"In a 12-week study, male weightlifters who drank a 500-milliliter glass of milk right after a workout, and another glass one hour later, gained more lean body mass and lost more fat than men who drank a soy or carbohydrate sports drink instead. Researchers suspect that certain proteins and amino acids in milk may help with body-building efforts, while the calcium may be a boon to fat loss."

"As Good as Water?

"A second study showed that milk rehydrates exercisers just as well as water and more effectively than sports drinks, probably because of the abundant electrolytes in milk. Of course, milk has calories, too. So if you're trying to reduce calories, nothing beats water for consequence-free hydration."

Also new to the website is a financial resilience assessment, developed under advisement of Army Installation Management Command's Financial Readiness Program. "It's a very substantive assessment, using a multitude of financial data points," he said.

Users also now have the ability to synchronize their personal fitness devices to ArmyFit, Austin said. This new feature is compatible with about a dozen of the most popular fitness devices such as JawBone UP, Runkeeper and FitBit. A tracker feature allows users to set goals, add data and track improvements regarding weight, body measurements, and alcohol consumption so improvements can be readily checked.

About a month ago, a pilot was started, known as the ArmyFit Commanders' Profile, or ACP, he said. ACP provides aggregate population health data based on GAT 2.0. It is being piloted at five installations and five National Guard states.

Austin emphasized that an individual's information within ACP is anonymous. It merely aggregates the data to show trends and other statistical information that could be used to help a commander's ready and resilient efforts.

Besides the ACP, GAT 2.0 and the rest of the site is also anonymous. "There's no exception to that," Austin said. Commanders simply cannot access the data and the Army is very careful about preserving the anonymity. The only thing commanders can see is whether or not a Soldier completed the GAT, which has been a requirement all along."

Resources accessed by users on ArmyFit are also anonymous, meaning no one can track an individual as he or she navigates the site, he said.

Once testing of ACP is completed and after the after-action review is completed, it is expected to be expanded Army-wide, he said.

In addition to ArmyFit adding new features, users themselves can also affect changes to the site, Austin said. The website maintains an active help desk. "We get a lot of queries and also a lot of good ideas, some of which are incorporated into the site. We've paid a lot of attention to that," he said.

For instance, the website gets a lot of feedback on nutrition and fitness, such as Crossfit, paleo-diets and so on. "We don't want to penalize people for doing those in the algorithm and also we need to know what's working well," he said.

The algorithm Austin referred to is the intelligence capability the site uses to formulate recommendations based on GAT 2.0 results.

WHAT'S NEXT

By next year, the Army is looking to make ArmyFit an app. Currently, he said, the best way to access it is from a computer or tablet. It can actually be looked at now from a mobile phone, but it's not as user friendly.

Austin encouraged new users to visit the site and those who've not been on it for a while to go back and take a look.

Leaders are key in promoting the website to their Soldiers, Austin said. "If they say this is just one more requirement, that will turn them off to the site," he said. "But if leaders challenge Soldiers to discover something useful about themselves, frequently they will."

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