Many extension community programs, including one provided by the Central Kansas District, help strengthen individuals physically and mentally.
SALINA, Kan. – Marilyn Menzies of Salina, Kansas, is a senior who works three days a week as a hostess for a local auto dealership. In her role greeting potential buyers, she knows many older adults come in with similar questions.
“More come in and ask for cars that they are able to get in and out of, because they can’t bend and mobilize as well as they used to,” Menzies said.
Perhaps this knowledge assisted in her decision to participate in activities to improve her own balance and strength. Menzies is one of 225 people who have participated in a “Strong People” class provided by K-State Research and Extension since 2009. The 45-minute class, hosted twice per week for 12 weeks in the spring and fall, is meant to strengthen seniors physically and mentally.
Leah Robinson, K-State Research and Extension family and consumer science agent for the Central Kansas District, has led the class for five years in Salina. She recently expanded an offering in Minneapolis, Kansas. The district covers both Saline and Ottawa counties.
The class is based on the “StrongWomen Program,” a research-based community exercise and nutrition program targeted to midlife and older women. Tufts University developed the curriculum, in which Robinson became certified.
Robinson said it focuses heavily on improving balance, flexibility and strength. Seniors have commented on how much their balance has improved after a month to six weeks, which makes everyday life easier. From the beginning, she decided to call the class “Strong People” to ensure its benefits weren’t exclusive to women.
“As the years have gone on, we have been able to generate more interest from the male population, and we have more men exercising with us now,” Robinson said.
Stan O’Neil of Salina is one of those men. The retired veterinarian and graduate of Kansas State University has been aware of extension for many years and has participated in other extension programs.
O’Neil admits he is not an avid exerciser, but he decided to try out “Strong People” as a participant for the first time this year. He said the class encourages him to exercise, and he has learned how to exercise correctly using slow and steady movements.
“If you do it at home, you can do the same routine, but it’s awful easy to go fast,” he said. “You don’t get as much out of it.”
He added that he likes “Strong People,” because participants are allowed to do the exercises to the extent of their ability. Breaks during the exercises are welcome when needed, and the class accommodates many different fitness levels. When the class is not in session, participants are given information on how to continue to exercise to maintain the strength they have built.
Another perk of the class is the affordability—it costs only $10 per person for each 12-week session. Participants also have a social benefit, Robinson said. Many don’t know each other before starting the class, but as the weeks go on, they appear to visit more and become comfortable with one another.
“Many people, especially older people, may be isolated,” Robinson said. “They might not get out much. This (class) provides an opportunity to get out of the house and around other people, which can stimulate brain functioning and keeps them active, involved and connected to others.”
Resilience in independence
While the general goals of “Strong People” are to improve balance, flexibility and strength, Robinson said improving these areas helps people lead a more productive, enjoyable life.
Participants have personal goals they can accomplish such as playing with their grandkids without tiring easily, golfing more, walking farther, getting in and out of a chair or car easier, relieving arthritis pain or simply putting on clothes daily without having to hold onto something. They can do these things because they are in better shape.
“This is one of my favorite programs to offer in my extension district,” Robinson said. “I get to know these people and form strong relationships with them after 12 weeks. To know that people are truly gaining real, measureable results, I know it’s worth my time.”
Sharon Hauser, a four-year “Strong People” participant also from Salina, said the class is “one of the most beneficial, wonderful things” for someone like her who has had both hips replaced, a right knee replaced and is waiting on a shoulder replacement.
“I live in a house with stairs, and I know I can do stairs easier with this class,” Hauser said.
Hauser and other participants said they believe the class is important for the community, and they take advantage of opportunities to share their experiences and recommend “Strong People” to others.
“Every county has access to the extension service,” O’Neil said. “It may be further for some (to get to) than others. I am sure that programs like this can be available at different places. All people have to do is seek their local extension office and what programs are available.”
A video about “Strong People” in the Central Kansas District is available on the K-State Research and Extension YouTube page.
Story by: Katie Allen