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NMSU Extension brings Strong Women exercise program to counties across the state

Helping people to have a better quality of life is the goal of the Strong Women program being introduced to communities across the state by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.



Barbara Benzaquen and Theresa Lopez do arm curls during the Strong Women strength-training program at Espanola's Lucero Recreation Center. The research-based, 12-week exercise program is sponsored by New Mexico State University's Rio Arriba County Extension Service, Espanola Hospital and Espanola Recreation Department. (Photo by NMSU Photo)

Historically, home economists have taught nutrition to their community members. They have introduced youth to physical fitness and nutrition. But now they are expanding their programs to include a fitness for adults.

Currently in 12 communities, extension home economists are leading women, ranging in age from midlife to elderly, in a 12-week, research-based strength-training program called Strong Women Stay Young.

Through scientific research, Miriam Nelson, Tuft University's School of Nutrition Science and Policy professor, demonstrated that strength training improves bone density, balance and energy.

Los Alamos was the first community to be introduced to the Strong Women program three years ago. The success Extension home economist Paula Roybal Sanchez has had in her county sparked other counties to get involved.

"We brought the Strong Women trainers to Las Cruces in February and taught interested home economists. Programs are being offered in Los Alamos, Eddy, Grant, Luna, Dona Ana, Chavez, Bernalillo and Rio Arriba counties and will soon be in Cibola, Curry and Roosevelt counties," said Carol Turner, NMSU Extension food and nutrition specialist and state coordinator of the Strong Women program.

After observing the program in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba County home economist Desaree Jimenez felt the program would be a way to help the aging population maintain their independence by helping them stay fit.

"When you look around and see our aging population and what happens to people when they lose their independence it breaks your heart. So anything I can do to help the community be healthier is going to help all of us. Healthy communities are happier and have more positive things happening," Jimenez said.

She joined efforts with Kathy Garcia, Espanola Hospital coordinator of diabetes programs and Maria Sandoval, director of the Espanola's Lucero Recreation Center to offer the class.

"The recreation center offered other exercise programs, but not one designed for seniors. We're glad to have this available in our community," Sandoval said.

"The hospital auxiliary has been asking for an exercise class and I've been looking for something that is appropriate for them," Garcia said. "This program is excellent."

Rio Arriba County Extension Service will host two classes this fall and will be part of the Northern New Mexico Community College and Espanola School District employee wellness program.

Participants in the Strong Women program see results quickly. Within two months, women in studies typically double the amount of weight they can lift.

"I never thought that I would like lifting weights," said Theresa Lopez, director of Northern New Mexico Community College's nursing program. "It's a lot of fun. I can feel myself getting stronger. I want to offer this program to our students. It will be a way for them to develop healthy life habits to role model to their patients."

Janet Ortiz, a participant in the Espanola class held at the Lucero Recreation Center, said she is grateful for NMSU and Espanola Hospital for providing this program.

"It's exactly what I needed for strengthening my body. I've been negligent with exercise. This program is a wonderful way to get started and realizing how important it is to have strong bones," Ortiz said.

While weight lifting is thought to build muscle bulk, Strong Women uses ankle weights and dumbbells in repetitive exercises of the arms and legs to return strength, balance, flexibility and endurance, which is lost in the aging process.

Participants strap on their ankle weights and work through a series of leg lifts then move to using dumbbells for arm and upper body strength.

"What is nice about this program is that they work at the weight level that is appropriate for them," Jimenez said. "Some may find that they are not ready to use weights, but that the weight of their leg and arms is enough resistance to benefit from the class."

Strong Women classes are starting soon. Contact the county extension office for more information about classes.