“As people age, they lose muscle mass and strength,” said Rebecca Seguin-Fowler, Ph.D., associate director for healthy living at the Institute for Advancing Health Through Agriculture, part of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Bryan-College Station. Fowler was one of the developers of the StrongPeople Strong Bodies curriculum.
“There has been a substantial body of research done on the positive benefits of strength training for older adults, and women in particular,” Seguin-Fowler said. “Post-menopausal women are especially at risk for sarcopenia, which is a loss of muscle mass through the aging process, or for osteoporosis.”
She said a variety of strengthening exercises were tested to develop the curriculum for StrongPeople Strong Bodies program.
“There were some fairly intensive strength-training regimens tested, including on post-menopausal women and frail older adults,” she said. “We found that the progressive lifting of weights was not only safe but of positive benefit to older adults. We took the evidence-based results of the laboratory testing and applied it in a range of community opportunities through the StrongPeople Strong Bodies program.”
About StrongPeople Strong Bodies
StrongPeople Strong Bodies is a community-based strength training program for older adults that focuses on progressive resistance training and exercises to improve balance and flexibility. The program is implemented locally by health professionals, fitness specialists and community leaders who are trained in the curriculum.
StrongPeople Strong Bodies is currently being offered in Aransas, Calhoun, Cameron, Kleberg, Kenedy, Duval, Hidalgo, Nueces, Refugio, Webb and Willacy counties through Texas A&M Health’s Coastal Bend Health Education Center in Corpus Christi and their McAllen campus.
The classes are offered twice a week for 24 weeks, and Healthy South Texas provides participants with all the necessary exercise equipment for the program. The curriculum includes two sets of resistance training routines. Both routines begin with a 5-10-minute warmup that may include walking, marching or light calisthenics.
“The resistance training exercises work all of the major muscle groups,” said Erica Reyes, Healthy South Texas specialist and AgriLife Extension lead for the StrongPeople Strong Bodies program “For these training exercises, we use a combination of dumbbells and adjustable ankle weights as well as the person’s own body weight.”
Classes end after a cool-down period that includes flexibility exercises.
Bringing the program to South Texas
So far, more than a dozen Healthy South Texas team members received an initial daylong training followed by an additional training with a national instructor to become training instructors and lead the classes. They also earned certification in CPR and first aid.
“We have had classes at area AgriLife Extension county offices, community centers, libraries and other locations, including retirement communities,” Reyes said. “There are many older people in this part of the state who are overweight or have heath conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. This program helps people get stronger and reduce their weight and health risks.”
To date, more than 200 people in South Texas have participated in the StrongPeople Strong Bodies program through the Healthy South Texas initiative.
The benefits of strength training for older individuals include increased muscle mass and strength, improved balance, and higher bone density, said Joshua Laudig, fitness coordinator at the Coastal Bend Health Education Center.
“Strength training also helps reduce the risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures and for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease,” Laudig said. “It also helps with mental health and overall wellness by helping relieve depression and improve self-confidence, while providing more energy and better sleep.”
Laudig said those who have participated in the StrongPeople Strong Bodies program thus far are showing promising improvements in their body composition, including body weight, body fat, hip-to-waist ratio and hemoglobin A1C, which is a measure of blood sugar and diabetes control.
“Participants have told me our program has helped them increase their strength and flexibility,” he said. “One participant told me she was able to dance again after going through the program. Another told me it helped her lower the amount of medication she was taking for her diabetes. Still another participant told me it had allowed her to travel and handle her own luggage. There was even a participant whose experience in the program inspired him to start training for a 10-mile bike ride.”
Laudig said he also noted a positive social impact from program participation.
“During the program, many people got to know one another socially,” he said. “We celebrated birthdays and many of the participants have stayed in touch after the program. There were real social benefits to the program along with its physical benefits.”
Reyes said the StrongPeople Strong Bodies program is expected to expand into more of the 27 counties covered by the Healthy South Texas initiative.
“We have had such positive results and such a positive response from program participants, we want to give even more people the opportunity to participate,” she said. “This is a research-based program that provides a combination of physical health and mental health benefits as well as social benefits to the community. We’d like to be able to share those benefits with others.”
To find out if this or other Healthy South Texas programs are offered in your county, go to http://healthytexas.wpengine.com/locations/.