Women keep fit physically and mentally through Garland County Extension Get Fit program.
Founded more than 10 years ago as Strong Women, the name was changed to Extension Get Fit this year.
“The women enjoyed a picnic and health fair last Thursday as part of National Senior Center Month,” leader Joel Green said. The program meets at McAuley Senior Center on Monday and Thursday mornings. Women walk inside at 8 a.m. and then enjoy an hour of exercise led by long-time volunteer instructor Debby Tate at 9 a.m.
The workout, sanctioned by the Arthritis Foundation through Garland County Extension Service, improves balance, flexibility, boosts metabolism, increases energy and stems bone loss that leads to osteoporosis, as well as reducing the risk of falling, leaders say.
The instructor inspires participants. “Debby infuses her own special brand of vitality and humor into each exercise. She’s a constant in our success, and the exercises help us stay independent as long as possible,” says Gretchen Hewlett.
Hewlett, 87, has been a member since the beginning. The Villager remains very active, playing 18 holes of golf several times a week and enjoys her knitting and bunco groups, and church activities.
Members enjoy long-term fitness. Tate said one woman had a follow-up bone density scan after taking classes more than a year. Comparing results to the first scan, the doctor ordered another scan to check results because of the vast improvement.
Another participant who was diagnosed with osteopenia, a mild form of osteoporosis, no longer needs medications after being in the program two years.
Strength training, along with nutritional improvements, are keys to long-term health, she said.
After the group ate, Dr. Kristi Sutton answered questions and led a discussion of health issues for senior women.
Sutton, an internal medicine physician practicing in the Village, challenged participants with a trivia contest, asking such questions as “How many muscles does it take to speak a single word?” and “How long does it take to lose muscle mass after one becomes  inactive?” Answers are “70 muscles” and “30 days.”
Green said the women form friendships, and develope a dynamic support system. “Over the years, life happens,” says Green. “Several have lost spouses. Others have suffered illnesses and others have had traumatic changes in life, but all have found the positive and cheerful support of classmates a key to recovery.”
During the year, the group also enjoys shopping trips, touring local businesses and visiting local attractions. Visiting Garvan Woodland Gardens at Christmas is an annual treat. Participants chip in $1 per class to help defray the cost of outside activities.
“Where else could we get so much bang for our buck?” asks member Linda Woodward. Women can participate by showing up for the class. Members range from their 50s up through their 80s.
Each participant is asked to check in at McAuley’s front desk to help the senior center document the number served at McAuley.