Former Purdue HHS Extension program improves strength, balance to reverse effects of aging

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa,

Group photo of the women in the Stay Strong/Stay Healthy program

Some of the women in the Stay Strong/Stay Healthy program pose for a photo in the Cloverleaf Complex on the Cass County Fairgrounds.Photo provided

Participating in Cass County’s Extension Homemakers club introduced Sara Walthery to a fountain of youth. While not an actual fountain, the Stay Strong/Stay Healthy program, which was originally brought to the county by former Purdue University College of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) Extension educator Penny Troutman, has made a significant difference in Walthery’s overall health. As someone who enjoys playing the Celtic harp and gardening, Walthery credits the program with helping her continue to do the things she loves.

“I was in my early-to-mid 60s when I started doing the program, and now, I’m going to be 74 on my next birthday, and I’m in better physical shape than I was 10 years ago, which I think not very many people my age can say,” Walthery said.

Troutman discovered the Stay Strong/Stay Healthy program, which was based on a study from Duke University, at a conference and brought it to the county as a rotating program. When Troutman retired in 2013, the women who had participated in the program, led by Walthery and Megan McDonald, decided to keep the program going.

Jane Horner, the current HHS Extension educator in Cass County, said while the program is no longer part of the HHS Extension program roster, she continues to offer support to the program as she can. This includes providing the Cloverleaf Complex for the program’s hour-long meetings twice a week, printing materials for new program attendees, and advertising information about the program in the Extension Homemakers newsletter.

“Our mission with Purdue Extension is that we are your lifetime education partner,” Horner said. “We’re always looking for and attending national conferences. This was a program from another state that I’m sure Penny Troutman thought women in our county could really benefit from.”

While the original program had set start and end dates, the group decided they didn’t want long breaks. Now, they only pause during the county 4-H fair, which uses their regular meeting spot, and during the colder months when snowy weather can impede travel. Otherwise, the women show up every Monday and Thursday at 9 a.m. to complete the program’s exercises together.

The program consists of a variety of simple exercises using weights to improve balance and muscle tone that can degenerate with age. The program’s primary goal is to help older women strengthen their muscles and bones to prevent injuries from falling.

“I tripped over my cat recently and went down, and I’m 85, so I think of what could have happened — broken shoulder bone or whatever — but it didn’t,” McDonald said. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s what this program did for me.’”

The women in the group don’t only reap the health benefits from the program — they also have developed a support system of friends. The women in the program meet up for breakfast once a month, outside of their exercise meetings.

“I think companionship is one of the benefits of the program — the fact that we do it together,” McDonald said.

Walthery noted that being able to talk with the other women while they exercise has served as a group therapy session for many of them.

“I think when you can meet up with the same group of people over a long period of time on a regular basis, you know what’s going on in their lives,” Walthery said. “It’s really good to have that kind of support group, and that’s kind of a mental health benefit of the program.”

However, Walthery and McDonald both hope the program will continue to grow, as the older members take a step back and newer members step in.

“This program has lasted because it’s been so beneficial to the people who have been in it,” Walthery said.

For Horner, this program illustrates the importance of Purdue HHS Extension programs and the difference that they make in helping individuals live healthier and happier lives.

“I just think it’s a cool program,” Horner said. “Even though I’m not the one who brought it to the county, that I kind of help these women keep it going, I’ve just been impressed. This is a program that has made a big difference on these women and their health.”

The Stay Strong/Stay Healthy program is open to the public, and those interested are encouraged to show up at the Cloverleaf Complex on the Cass County Fairgrounds at 9 a.m. Mondays and Thursdays.