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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 18, 2010

At Strong Bones Plus
Lifting weights builds bones while high spirits build camaraderie

By Philippa Stasiuk

ALTAMONT — Ellen “I’m 72 but in my mind and heart I’m 18” Howie is getting the stink eye from the teacher. She’s supposed to be counting the time it takes to slowly lower herself into the chair with her arms crossed over her chest but instead is explaining to the rest of the class that, when she’s 90, this exercise will be critical in one particular room of the house. Tittering ensues.

Howie is in a circle of eight women, each with weights in her hands and around her ankles; they’ve shown up on Monday morning to the Strong Bones Plus class. Held for years at St. John’s Church on Maple Avenue, the women meet each morning with one ostensible purpose: to increase bone density through weight lifting.

After stretching, class leader Anne Wright counts the repetitions as each muscle group in the body is isolated and strengthened through multiple sets of pulls, pushes, and lifts. Myrtle Murray is assigned the task of helping them to remember to keep count.

“This one’s called ‘hugging a tree’ and it’s one of our least favorite exercises,” says Howie, bringing her hand weights from her side to the front.

“But we forget where we are and we yak, and afterwards we realize that we got a little exercise,” says Susan St. Amour, describing the usual challenges of simultaneously talking and lifting weights.

“Yeah.  Plus we’re multitasking to build dendrites,” agrees Howie.

“Good thing you’re counting,” says Carol Caloro to Murray, “because nobody else is.”

Wright, who has been teaching the class for over five years, is 74 years old and does the leg exercises with 20-pound weights on each leg. She began taking the classes after being diagnosed with osteoporosis and was asked to teach by the Retired Senior Volunteers Program, RSVP, based at the University at Albany, which runs the classes throughout Albany and Schenectady counties.

“The reason I joined originally was the motivation in the group to do the exercises,” said Wright. “You can have good intentions to do the exercises on your own at home, but being in the group really provides motivation.”

Strong Bones Plus was originally based on a program created at Tufts University after multiple studies showed the relationship between lifting weights and increasing bone mass. Osteoporosis, which is a disease that causes bones to become thin, weak, and break easily, is associated with the thinning bone mass that comes with aging. The most common broken bones in people with osteoporosis are the spine, wrist, or hip.

In New York State, at least 3 million women and men aged 50 and over either have osteoporosis or are at significant risk of developing it, with a higher percentage of women developing the disease than men, according to the New York State Osteoporosis Prevention and Education Program.

“The thing is that weightlifting really does work,” says New York City based trainer Jason White. It makes bodies stronger and the whole mess, from the skin down to the marrow is technically one thing, so stress, if applied adequately and recovered from adequately, makes the whole stronger. The term for bones getting stressed and recovering is chrondrocytes.”

The word is from the Greek chondros, meaning cartilage, and kytos, meaning cell.

“The body sends chrondrocytes to shore up stressed bone areas,” said White. “An older person’s body will do this provided they are under adequate stress.”


Testing whether or not the program is providing adequate muscle stress for each participant has always been one of the program’s weaknesses, according to Lauren Benoit, director of RSVP.

“We really didn’t have any funding for the Strong Bones program,” said Benoit, “which is why the program is about to change. After Tufts stopped being involved, it was no longer an evidenced-based program.”

Benoit said that the program will soon be called OsteoBusters, and will be managed through RSVP and the Glens Falls Osteoporosis Resource Center.

“OsteoBusters came at a perfect time,” said Benoit, “and it’s very similar to the Strong Bones program. But now there will be materials, new books, training for volunteers, and more locations. We’re looking for new leaders for the classes, as well as new sites in which to hold them.”

Benoit said that data gathering would also be more robust in OsteoBusters, to improve the goals of the program. “If someone starts and, six months later, we want to know: Has their life changed? Are they stronger? Did they go to a doctor and get a bone-density test and has weight lifting made a difference? What is the impact of this program on their lives? It will be very exciting to see!”

Chocolates from Paris

For the women at St. John’s, the classes may soon become more rigorous but the camaraderie will remain.

“This is such frivolity on a Monday morning,” said Howie.

“I know,” leader Anne Wright, replies. “ I can hardly keep up with it.”

“I better just walk fast to make up for all the time I’ve been serving chocolate,” says Kristen Smith. Signing off weights for a while until a back injury heals, Smith still attends class, walking around the circle instead of lifting, stopping periodically to chat with the weight lifters.

Monday, she passed around French chocolates, a gift to the class from member Anne Lauenstein, who has just returned to Altamont from a month-long trip to Paris.

For 40 minutes, the bag of chocolates sits untouched in the center of the circle, supposedly to serve as a focus for good posture during the exercises.

But, by the time the group has gotten to leg lifts, the temptation is too much, and Smith takes it upon herself to serve, continuing her laps but this time with a tray of chocolates.

Everyone begins to eat while still lifting their legs, all the while trying to keep track of which leg they’re doing and how many repetitions of each exercise have been done.

“Anne, do you realize that every time you start talking, you stop lifting your legs?” Caloro asks Lauenstein, who has just been describing some of the meals she had in France.

Lauenstein’s legs stop moving as she thinks of a reply.

“But at least you’re among people,” says Howie, “who care enough to tell you when you do it.”


For information on teaching or joining OsteoBusters, contact the RSVP volunteer coordinators at 442-5587 or e-mail RSVP@albany.edu.

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