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NMSU Valencia County Extension offering Strong Women strength training at Belen Community Center

LOS LUNAS, N.M. - When a woman hears the words "strength training," the vision of big machines with heavy weights being lifted by big muscular men working their bodies to a sweat comes to mind. Not so with the Strong Women Stay Young strength-training program.

Serena Weh leads a Strong Women strength-training class at Belen Community Center. The free program, which is offered by NMSU Valencia County Extension Service, is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. (NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

The 12-week research-based program looks almost too simple to believe. But it works.

The Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service is offering the free program at 5:30 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday at the Belen Community Center in Eagle Park. The only requirements are that participants have a written release from their doctor to participate and they make the commitment to do the exercise routine once a week at home.

New Mexico State University's Extension Service has expanded its tradition of helping people to have a better quality of life by introducing the Strong Women program in various communities across the state.

Historically, home economists have taught nutrition to their community members.

"We've done diabetes education and nutrition education, but not a lot of physical fitness," said Ann-Marie Wilson, Valencia County home economist. "So to help prevent diabetes, osteoporosis and other health issues that arise when people become older, we thought strength training would be something people can do."

While weight lifting is thought to build muscle bulk, Strong Women uses ankle weights and dumbbells in repetitive exercises of the arms and legs to return strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance, which people lose as they age.

Benefits of the training include relief from arthritis, restoration of balance and reduction of falls, strengthening bones, proper weight maintenance, improved glucose control, healthy state of mind, sleep improvement, and healthy heart tissue.
Among the women meeting at the Belen Community Center is Shirley Baca, a survivor of cancer whose doctor recommended she do a strength training program to help with her health.

"I didn't know how to do a strength-training program on my own," Baca said. "Then I heard about this program offered by the Extension office and I thought this would be a good way to learn."

During the one-hour session, participants strap on their ankle weights and work through a series of leg lifts, then move to using dumbbells for arm and upper body strength. The amount of weight used is determined by the person's strength and will increase as they exercise during the 12 weeks.

Instructor Serena Weh, who has participated in other forms of fitness programs, says she "has been surprised at the amount of muscle burn you get while using the lower amount of weights."

After just a couple of weeks, participants say they can already see improvements in their bodies.

For more information about the free program, contact the Valencia County Extension office at (505) 565-3002.