As the ladies enter the room and gather around the long conference table, it looks like the preamble to a business meeting. But when they unload ankle and hand weights from their tote bags, not papers and computers, you realize they mean business - but definitely not in the corporate sense.
These women are participating in an exercise program called Strong Women Growing Stronger, offered by Penn State Extension at the Lysock View Complex in Loyalsock Township. It is one of four such programs in Lycoming and Clinton counties. Similar classes are held at Pitter Patter Day School in the former Becht Elementary School on Clayton Avenue in Loyalsock Township and at sites in Loganton and Renovo.
The Strong Women program was developed by Dr. Miriam Nelson and her colleagues at Tufts University, according to Laurie Welch, family and consumer sciences educator at Penn State Extension.
PAT CROSSLEY/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
Ladies participating in the Strong Women workshop warm up with stretches while group instructor Ceri Watkins, back center, talks with another participant. Strong Women Growing Stronger is a class dedicated to helping both women and men develop and strengthen their muscles to prevent and manage the bone disease osteoporosis, as well as improve flexibility and balance.
Its main purpose is to improve flexibility, strength, endurance, balance and bone density in women and men who are middle-aged and older. Penn State now conducts the program throughout the state.
"It is not primarily a weight-loss program," Welch said, "although women taking the class sometimes experience weight loss because they feel better about themselves and this brings about change in other areas of their lives. They may walk more or change their eating habits."
There also is a social aspect to the classes. A camaraderie often develops among participants.
IF YOU GO:
A new class began March 25, but seats still are available. Call 570-433-3040 to register.
The class meets from 5 to 6 p.m. at the former Becht school, 1225 Clayton Ave.
Penn State Extension also is planning a separate class called Dining with Diabetes. It will be held once a week for 5 weeks beginning April 24 at the West End Christian Community Center. Call to register.
"There is bantering back and forth among the women," Welch said.
Sue Yeagle, of Montoursville, agreed. She has attended the local class for six years.
"I look forward to coming here, hearing people share their stories and encouraging each other," she said. "It's like two times a week we come for our friendship booster."
In other words, the class is fun, even though one of the reasons the program was developed was to deal with a serious problem for women over the age of 50 - osteoporosis.
Although men also can be afflicted by this "silent disease," osteoporosis is more common in women.
Beginning in their 40s, many women may lose 1/4 to 1/3 of a pound of muscle each year - and may gain that much or more in fat - according to a report from the Penn State Extension.
The lack of muscle tone and strength can make everyday tasks more difficult and decrease balance and bone density. Bone density is the amount of calcium and minerals in the bone. A loss in bone density leads to a greater risk of falling.
Many people are not aware they have osteoporosis until they experience a fall, the report states.
Studies have shown that exercise, particularly strength training, and diet are vital in the treatment of osteoporosis. According to the report, strength training also can reduce the symptoms of other chronic diseases such as arthritis, depression, type 2 diabetes, sleep disorders and heart disease.
Two to three days per week is optimal to build muscle mass and help preserve bone density, the study found.
Some of the women in the local group already have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, so the sessions are aimed at preventing any further loss of bone density or actual improvement in the loss of bone density.
Judy Lunt, of Montoursville, said her bone density has improved by 8 percent in the two years she's been attending the class. Brenda Kerans, of Williamsport, said her bone density has not decreased in three years.
Results can be as dramatic as that or as simple as improving the ability to do everyday tasks.
Ceri Watkins, the group leader at the Lysock Complex site, told of a lady who was so happy that she could stand and get dressed because her balance had improved.
"One of the reasons I became a leader was so that I'd be forced to do the exercises myself," Watkins said. "I can go up and down steps without holding on and I'm healthy. I attribute my good health to the Strong Women program."
The hourlong class consists of a five- minute warm-up, followed by eight to 12 strength-training exercises to promote proper body awareness, positioning, flexibilty and posture. The class ends with a five-minute cool-down.
A nutrition component is included, and class members are encouraged to evaluate their eating habits.
All exercises are done sitting or standing by a chair and target particular muscle groups, according to Watkins.
"The amount of the weights and the exercises are done at each person's own pace," she emphasized.
Welch reinforced this, noting that modifications can be made to accomodate people with specific problems.
"There are exercises that can be done on the floor," she said, "but some people may have difficulty getting up from the floor, so we might substitute another exercise, which benefits the same muscle group but is done standing or against the wall."
Each 12-week session begins and ends with an evaluation to measure progress from pre- to post-session. The data collected from the evaluations is sent to Penn State, where it is analyzed to see if there has been an increase in participants' flexibility, balance and strength since the beginning of the classes.
Classes often are held in community settings, such as churches or community centers.
"This makes them more appealing to people who might not want to go to a gym or fitness center," Welch said.
The cost varies from group to group, so interested persons should contact local Penn State Extension offices for registration information.