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Weighty matters: Local women lift their way to health

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Catherine W. Idzerda
October 29, 2007
— From 3 pounds to 5 pounds to 10 pounds and then—who knows?—the sky’s the limit.

Women all over Rock County are gaining weight, and for once, that’s a good thing.


Over the past 18 months, more than 245 women have completed a Rock County UW Extension program called “Strong Women.”


Designed for women who are 40 and older, the program incorporates basic strength training and nutritional education.


“We’ve had some women in their 30s, and our oldest participant was 95 years old,” said Angie Flickinger, a registered dietitian and family living educator for the UW Extension. “We’ve had one older gentleman participate, too.”


Strength training increases bone density, reducing the risk from the cracks and fractures associated with osteoporosis. The program also helps reduce the risk for health problems including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression.


The classes include a basic warm-up such as marching in place, a series of strength training exercises and then a few balance and flexibility exercises. Each class ends with a nutrition lesson.


“Some people start with 3-pound dumbbells; some people start with 5-pound dumbbells; some people start without any weights,” Flickinger said.


All of the exercises can be done in chairs as well.


The exercises work the major muscle groups in the body.


“We don’t work the muscles to exhaustion,” Flickinger said. “It’s not aerobic; you won’t get all sweaty—well, you might get a little dewy.”


The classes meet twice a week for 12 weeks, and as participants gain strength, they increase their weights.


Does it work?

“We have the evaluations back from the first 93 women who took the course, and the results are awesome,” Flickinger said.


Evaluations showed that 91 percent of participants felt their health was better and said they felt physically stronger. Another 82 percent reported having more energy, and 69 percent said their joints were less painful.


It also helped many women see that fitness could be achieved in small steps.


“I heard a lot of comments from women in their 50s or 60s; they said they never played a sport,” Flickinger said. “The idea of going to the gym was very intimidating for them.”


Part of the goal was to “bring fitness and physical activity to the community.” So Flickinger has taught the class at senior and community centers and at the Rock County Courthouse.


For Lisa Mianecki, 47, that was a big part of the appeal of the program.


“I tried working out at the Y and all that, but with the kids and everything, it wasn’t convenient,” Mianecki said.


Mianecki works in the Rock County Clerk’s Office at the courthouse.


She’s taken the Strong Women course twice and works out with a group of women when the course isn’t in session.


“People start at their own level, and now we have people who are hefting 10- and 15-pounders,” Mianecki said.


Her increased strength means everyday tasks such as digging in the garden or lifting a heavy pan off the stove are just easier.


“My back feels so much better, too,” Mianecki said. “It really makes you realize how much you lose when you’re not working out.”


The science of strength and the power of the program

Dr. Miriam Brown, a Tufts University professor and older women’s health specialist, designed the Strong Woman program after her research showed that strength training can improve bone density, reducing osteoporosis risks.


The research also showed women who participated in strength training reduced their risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, depression and obesity and improved their self-confidence, sleep and vitality.


UW Extension Family Living Educator Angie Flickinger explained the science—and common sense—behind the program’s design.


“Starting in their mid-40s, women lose one-quarter to one-third pound of muscle every year and gain that much, or more, in fat,” Flickinger said.


The loss of strength impacts all areas of life and starts a vicious cycle of inactivity: The less strong and energetic women feel, the less likely they are to exercise or be active. The less active they are, the less energy they have.


Arthritis sufferers face a similar fate.


“As soon as their arthritis starts hurting, they stop doing whatever they were doing,” Flickinger said. “But keeping active can help arthritis.”


Reducing cracks and fractures due to osteoporosis through building bone density could have significant results. Of the 10 million Americans who have osteoporosis, more than 80 percent are women.


Flickinger believes so strongly in the program that she’s become a trainer and an ambassador for the program in Wisconsin. She’s planning a statewide conference where she’ll train extension agents and leaders of nonprofit organizations to run the program in their communities.


She has ambitious plans for the local program, too. She’s wants to develop a core of volunteer trainers so there can be a Strong Women class running in every community in Rock County.


JANUARY CLASSES

New Strong Women classes will be offered again starting in January. The class is $35, and scholarships are available. For more information, call Angie Flickinger at Rock County UW Extension at (608) 757-5694.



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