Even if you've never exercised before, a class given locally allows women of any age or background to get "Strong."
The StrongWomen program, sponsored by the Penn State Cooperative Extension, was started after research done by Dr. Miriam E. Nelson at Tufts University about the loss of bone density and muscle mass in older women.
"She developed this program to get women to exercise to help prevent osteoporosis and increase quality of life," said Sharon McDonald, a nutrition, health and food safety educator with the extension.
McDonald said the program has been offered in the area for about five years and combines strength training, calisthenics and nutritional education. In the time it's been given, McDonald said she's witnessed many women improve strength, agility and overall physical fitness over the course of the 12-week program. She added that women have also said it helps with joint pain, and that bone density scans of many have either stabilized or improved.
"I think, overall, it really helps people to improve their quality of life," McDonald said.
Jayne Parrish, 64 of Bellwood, said she has been attending the StrongWomen class for two years and likes that it mixes weight training and cardio.
The 12-week session begins on Jan. 17 and ends April 5. Classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A morning session will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. at the East Juniata Community Center, 1608 N. Fifth Ave., Altoona, and an evening class from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Juniata United Methodist Church, 808 N. Fourth St., Altoona. For more information or to register, contact Sharon McDonald at 940-5989. The cost of the program is $68 and the registration deadline is Jan. 12.
"It's a nice mix of both that's appropriate for a woman my age," she said.
Parrish has also been diagnosed with osteoporosis, but said the bone density scans she's had since starting the classes have shown that it has improved.
The nutritional advice given by McDonald has also benefited her eating habits, Parrish said. It was through the class that she learned about things like natural sweeteners and how to prepare foods with less fat.
But even beyond the health benefits, Parrish said she has met great friends at the classes and really enjoys going.
"I feel good after I do it and I look forward to doing it on a regular basis," she said.
Susan Benson, 54 of Tyrone, is the certified teacher of the class, and said it's a fun way for even a first-time exerciser to "improve your health and general sense of well being." She added that though they target women 40 and older, anyone is welcome.
McDonald said they really encourage women to go at their own pace, but they also want women to push themselves to increase the weight they use so they can get the most out of the program.
"Whenever anybody says strength training, people think of body building," she said. "We're not trying to give you big muscles, we're just trying to strengthen the muscles you have so you can keep going up and down your steps, lifting your bags of groceries and playing with your kids and grandkids."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.