MU extension program reevaluates for a younger crowd

Friday, May 8, 2009 | 4:24 p.m. CDT
Ellen Sapp lifts weights during a Stay Strong, Stay Healthy exercise class at Parkade Elementary on April 6. Stay Strong, Stay Healthy is part of an MU Extension program and is led by Vera Massey, a nutrition and health education specialist at MU.

COLUMBIA — Parkade Elementary School secretary Ellen Sapp has found an easy way to slip a workout into her day. She exercises with friends at the school.

Sapp participates in the nationwide Stay Strong, Stay Healthy program, a 10-week exercise program that has served 300 Columbia residents so far.

How to enroll

The summer is a slow time for the program, as most sessions begin in September and January. For more information, contact MU Extension to be put on the e-mail list to find out about the next classes forming.

Vera Massey



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“Working out with my friends provides extra motivation,” Sapp said. "I feel invigorated and relaxed. At the end of every class, she asks, ‘Don’t you feel good?’ and the answer is always yes.”

At its beginning in 2005, the MU Extension-sponsored program was designed for adults 55 years and older. Vera Massey began the program in Boone County at the Columbia Senior Center before moving into several work sites.

The Stay Strong, Stay Healthy program has classes in more than 19 counties in Missouri. They focus on balance, flexibility and strength for people who are not physically active.

“It’s not going to be helpful for people who are already fit,” said Massey, an MU Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

She said the program can be less intimidating than going to a gym and helps to lighten the load of everyday tasks, such as getting off a couch or out of the tub.

“The exercises may appear to be really simple, but they actually can make one more flexible and stronger,” Massey said.

Before and after tests are given to see how an individual has changed over the course of the program.

“The majority of people improve in every area,” she said. “We find that this program makes a difference in peoples' lives.”

The class meets once a week and participants set their own pace. After the third week, when most participants typically have proper form, they can choose to add weights between 2 and 5 pounds.

Massey said she encourages the group to do the hour-long routine at least one other time during the week, which can open the door to becoming more active.

The physical benefits are not the only perk. Massey said she asks the participants to take the time to focus on their body by counting out loud, which makes it harder to be distracted by other thoughts. She has been adding a 14-minute optional mindfulness activity at the end of the class to help the group feel at peace before they go home.

“It’s beneficial both mentally and physically,” Massey said. “To me, it’s the perfect combination.”

Some participants, such as Blue Ridge preschool teacher Katy Jennings, considered joining the class because of the inexpensive enrollment — $20 for 10 weeks — but stayed because of the additional benefits.

“The only reason I took it was to have 'me time' before I go home for the day,” said Jennings, who added that she plans to sign up for the program again.

“Now it’s easy to make time for doing things like washing dishes because they are not as much of a stress on my body,” Jennings said.

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