Montana State University

"Strong women" . . . carry calves

June 11, 2009 -- By Carol Flaherty MSU News Service

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You'd think that running a ranch would keep a woman strong, but Deb Archer says she couldn't have gotten through lambing and calving if she hadn't participated in a Montana State University Extension strength-training program first.

The Powder River County woman is one of hundreds in Montana participating in MSU Extension's "Strong Women" program, which combines use of hand-weights and exercises into roughly an hour of exercises, twice-a-week over six-to-10 weeks.

Early results from the work show that nearly all participants increased the weight they can lift as part of the program. However, participants are more interested in what that strength lets them do.

"We started lambing the fifth of March," said Archer, who took a nine-week course in Broadus. "In previous years, I was sore all the time, and after I did all of the class it really made a difference for me. My strength, it was amazing to me. Calving this year, we had snow that was deep and miserable. I was able to pick up a calf and I've never been able to do that. I didn't even think about it. I just picked up the calf and put it in the barn."

For the soon-to-be 82-year-old Ann Bird, the program helped her at church.

"I've managed to do most of the program," said Bird, who takes the class in Coalwood led by Powder River County's MSU Extension Agent Julie Riley. "It seems like I am more limber and ready to get out and do things. I notice in church that I can kneel down and genuflect easier."

Bird and Archer are part of an MSU Extension program that is, or will be, led in at least 25 counties and on two reservations. Some programs have been under way since the fall of 2008. Others are under way now or will start later in 2009. The classes and related research are led statewide by Lynn Paul, MSU Extension food and nutrition specialist.

The program was developed by Miriam Nelson at Tufts University. Nelson is the author of "Strong Women Stay Young," and other "strong women" books of various titles. In addition to helping Montanans, Paul said the work should reveal the most effective ways to implement such programs, especially in small communities.

The draw for Linda Nevins, who recently started a new Strong Women program in Sidney, was to "add variety and fun" to her activities.

"More importantly," e-mailed Nevins, "when I have an appointment set up with others I am more apt to keep it. Where, if I just had a plan for myself to do that same activity at home, it is much easier for me to put it off until later and end up skipping the activity altogether."

The pay-off for avid fly fisher Terry Scott of Teton County was a long day fishing.

"I was amazed at how long I was out there," Scott said. "I had fly fished for a long time, and I had thought it would get harder. I hadn't even been out walking. I was amazed. I lasted five or six hours out there standing and catching fish."

Scott's teacher, MSU Teton County Extension Agent Jane Wolery, said she has noticed the benefits from the class for herself: "I'm sleeping better at night."

For Barbara Kramer in Fergus County, the program's most obvious benefit is that it has helped her recover from several physical problems.

"I was in pretty good health, and then a lot of things happened," Kramer said. "I fractured my hip and had it operated on. Then I fractured my back and had that operated on. . . . The doctors have suggested every exercise they could think of, but I've stuck with the Strong Women. I modify the exercises a little bit on some things. I think it limbers you up. . . The squatting exercise helps. I think it helps everybody."

MSU Fergus County Extension Agent Denise Seilstad said the program has helped her, too. Seilstad broke her neck six years ago.

"Now that I'm leading Strong Women, I don't have to use heat on my neck at night any more," Seilstad said. "This is the one Extension program we do that we (the agents) benefit from, too, because we are there doing it with the students."

Jean Matthews, a participant in Yellowstone County's class, said she had a mastectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy in 2006. After that, she said she had little strength or flexibility in her left arm -- until she took the Strong Women program led by the county's MSU Extension Agent Bernice Mason.

"This was outside my comfort zone," Matthews said. "Now I love it. Since the surgery, I've had to put my left arm into my coat first because I couldn't reach behind with it, couldn't get it to bend the right direction. I didn't even think about it one day when, about halfway through the first set of classes, I just put my coat on like normal."

Paul said that the Montana research has documented benefits of the strength training in Montana women.

"Beside increased strength," Paul said, "the Strong Women programs have helped women relieve pain and improve their sleep, endurance, confidence and balance.'

The Strong Women program in Montana was possible due to a training grant from MSU Extension and an MSU Health and Human Development grant that paid for the evaluation of the program. It is now set to expand throughout the state. To find out if a program will be starting near you, contact your local MSU Extension office. A list of scheduled locations is available as an Acrobat Reader file on the MSU Web at: http://www.msuextension.org/nutrition/documents/StrongWomenlocations609.pdf

To listen to Paul discussing the benefits of the program, go to: http://www.montanafamilies.info/radio.html and look for "Strength Training for Women" link toward the bottom of the page.

Contact: Lynn Paul (406) 994-5702 or lpaul@montana.edu, Bernice Mason (406) 256-2828, Julie Riley (406) 436-2424, Jane Wolery (406) 466-2491, Jona McNamee (406) 454-6980, Katelyn Anderson (406) 375-6611, Jennifer Wells (406) 265-5481, Denise Seilstad (406) 538-3919, Tara Andrews (406) 874-3370