OSU Extension offers a variety of programs, from gardening and farming to food preservation and exercise classes.
Wait, exercise classes?
The Strong Women exercise program “is an evidence-based, community exercise and nutrition program targeted to midlife and older women,” according to OSU Extension. “Strong Women was developed from research conducted by Dr. Miriam Nelson at Tufts University. The program has groups across the nation and throughout the Columbia River Gorge.”
In the past couple of years, Gorge-area Strong Women exercise classes in Hood River County have gone from one — at the Mt. Hood Town Hall — to four. As early as this fall, three new programs have cropped up in the county, two in Hood River and one in Cascade Locks.
Attend a class
Strong People classes are scheduled as follows, although changes can occur. Contact leaders in advance to get the most up to date information.
Mon., Wed. and Fri., 9:30-10:30 a.m. at the Mt. Hood Town Hall; $10/month, 541-352-7363.
Mon. and Wed., 10-11:15 a.m. at the Cascade Locks City Hall; $20/term, 509-699-0842.
Mon. and Wed., 5:15-6:15 p.m. at Unexpected Blessings, SDA Church, 1090 22nd St.; free, 509-540-5042.
Tues. and Thurs., 9-10 a.m. at Wy’east Vista Apartments. Community Room, 1800 8th St.; 608-513-2297.
Program leaders Ann Dow, Claire Culbertson, Martha Stone and Elizabeth Hardy all came to the Strong Women program in different ways, but are driven to help make exercise attainable and fun for those who attend.
To become a leader, they had to attend a one-day training, led by Lauren Kraemer, family and community health, and SNAP-Ed coordinator for OSU Extension. They also were required to study a larger binder of information on the program, developed by Tufts University.
Having a background in exercise and health doesn’t hurt, either.
“I have a background in health promotion, so this seemed like a good volunteer activity for me, as well as an opportunity for me to do some strength training locally,” Culbertson said. She co-leads the classes held at the Wy’east Vista Apartments on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Stone also has extensive experience in health. She recently moved to the area from Idaho, where she retired from Blue Mountain Community College as a health and PE teacher. She leads classes at the Cascade Locks City Hall on Mondays and Wednesdays.
“I have been looking for ways to stay in shape and continue teaching on a part time basis,” she said. “I love teaching exercise classes, and I need the accountability of a group to keep me exercising regularly … I know the importance of weight training to maintain healthy bones and preventing falls, so when I read about Strong Women, I knew it was going to be the perfect class for me to teach. The fact that we had a facility to use so close to my home — Cascade Locks City Hall — made it the perfect situation.”
Stone had never taken a Strong Women class before becoming a leader; Culbertson had attended classes at Mt. Hood Town Hall for a year.
“I moved to Hood River from Wisconsin, where a friend of mine attended a Strong Women class,” said Culbertson. “It came highly recommended, so I decided when I moved to Oregon — newly retired — that it would be one of the first things I looked into.”
There were several in the Gorge, but none in Hood River; the closest was at the Mt. Hood Town Hall.
“I received such a warm welcome from the women in the class, and thought the facilitators did a great job, so I continued to attend for an entire year,” she said. “It was a nice way to meet people … (and) being new to the area, I enjoyed the drive: The spectacular view of Mount Hood driving up, and Mount Adams on my way back.”
Dow, who leads at Mt. Hood Town Hall, had only taken one class in Mosier before signing up for the training.
“I wanted to get involved in the program for my own fitness benefit, to help bring affordable exercise classes to the upper valley, and to meet new people, presumably like-minded about the importance of exercise to a happy and healthy living and aging,” she said.
They’ve found the classes are well attended by people of all ages, although the majority are middle age and older women.
And they’ve started using the term “Strong People” to emphasis the fact that anyone can attend.
“I have started using the title ‘Strong People,’ in hopes that more ‘people’ will start signing up for the class,” Stone said. “Men and women both benefit from weight training and fall prevention, so there’s no reason to limit the participation of anyone.”
Said Dow, “The program was originally developed for middle aged and older women, but everyone can do these strength training exercise and would benefit.”
The core group meeting at the town hall is between 60 and 80 years old, she said, but women in their 90s have also attended. They’ve also had a man attend — once — and younger women come to class from time to time as well.
All would like to see even greater numbers.
The class at Wy’east Vista Apartments Community Room began in October and sees an average of eight to 10 women ages 65 to 79, Culbertson said. She’s spread the word by dropping off flyers to Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital and to yoga and physical therapy clinics, as well as by word of mouth.
“We tell people we know about the class,” she said. “We believe in the benefits of the class — physically as well as socially.”
Stone had 24 people sign up for the first term, and she’s hoping to build on those numbers in the coming year.
“We have space to grow, and as we collect tuition and use it to buy more weights and other equipment that we need for the class,” said Stone. “I’m hoping we can grow into a nice sized group of 30 or so.”
While the program is fundamentally the same, the leaders have some flexibility, in meeting times, length of term and cost.
Cost differences between the programs are largely due to differences in room rentals and whether the programs are still in building mode, with equipment to still purchase, said Dow.
Mt. Hood Town Hall offers “Strong Women” and “Strong Bones” programs, and Stone has decided to bring both to Cascade Locks this term as well.
“They’re a little different — the ‘Strong Bones’ program includes a segment of floor exercises, while the ‘Strong Women’ does not,” she explained. She will lead the floor exercises on Wednesdays towards the end of class, and said that anyone who does not wish to participate in that portion is welcome to leave the class a little early — and get the benefits from the rest of the program.
Stone has taught exercise for seniors throughout her career, and says she’s had participants in their 90s.
“It’s never too late to start, or start again, or give it a try for the very first time,” she said.