It isn’t every day you get out-lifted and out-sweated by senior citizens.
But these ladies aren’t your typical seniors. They are the women of the WOW (Women on Weights) program at The Center of The Open Link, formerly known as the Upper Perkiomen Senior Center. And they can put people half their age to shame.
Between 20 and 25 women typically meet each Tuesday and Thursday in East Greenville to focus on strength training. Through those meetings they work on upper and lower body strengthening, as well as improving balance and flexibility.
“This is a very safe program,” said WOW leader Jane Oswald. “We may look like we’re going slow, but we’re working very hard and strengthening muscles. Post-menopausal women, especially, lose muscle and bone density as they age and it’s very important to exercise.”
Oswald has led the group for three years and said the class is based on a book by Dr. Miriam E. Nelson, titled “Strong Women Stay Young,” and a study by Tufts University on strength training for older adults.
Oswald said research shows this type of exercise has helped people get off medication for osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. It also has been proven to help reduce symptoms of chronic diseases and conditions like arthritis, diabetes, back pain and depression.
“We’ve had women who have been able to get off their meds and that’s a success,” she said of members of her class.
“I come out for the exercise. This class is what you need for building bones,” said participant Ellen Pavie of Sumneytown. “My bone density test actually came back better this time than before so I was pretty pumped about that.”
“I want to keep my strength and get more,” said Doris McCullough, 79, of Pennsburg. “I do yoga, too. I’m just trying to stay young.”
“Their goal is to remain strong and healthy into their 60s, 70s and 80s,” said program director Sheila Ruth. “Jane [Oswald] is so invested in these women and is emphatic about giving them an avenue to get stronger. They’re all amazing.”
Participants in the class typically warm up to modern music, then take to the hand and ankle weights for 10 sets of an assortment of exercises before stretching and cooling down.
One of the most popular aspects of the class is the chance to share what they call “aha moments” marking their milestones in health. While Oswald jokes that one of the greatest aha moments the class has ever had came from a woman who explained she could now carry a whole case of wine up from the basement instead of having to go for one bottle at a time, they are truly occasions worth celebrating.
A participant in last Thursday’s class explained she was recently able to lift her father, who is using a walker, out of bed alone when it used to take three family members to do the task.
The connection the ladies share, too, is hard to miss.
“Emotionally, this class, it’s a real benefit. We all get along really well and socialize well,” said Oswald, who explained many of the women get together outside class to play bunko and attend events. “It is great socialization,” said Clara Robinson of Upper Hanover, who noted that among the pluses of staying limber and maintaining a good lifestyle as she ages.
Most of the women also show their altruistic side by regularly getting together for craft nights and fundraisers. This past year, the WOW women did wool felting, made jewelry and even baked gourmet dog biscuits, which were then sold at the annual Women’s Expo in East Greenville, sponsored by the Upper Perkiomen Business and Professional Women’s Club. They also hold a yearly luncheon fundraiser at Schultheis’ Carriage House Restaurant in Palm.
While they are humble about their contributions, Ruth said the group raised around $2,500 last year for The Open Link, which helps keep many vital health and wellness programs running at The Center.
“They have an energy to give back to the community,” Ruth said. “Most of them also volunteer here or at The Open Link in Pennsburg.”
The Center hosts a variety of fitness programs, including a tai chi class, which is popular with the WOW group. That class, taught by Linda Goens, teaches the Jung style, short-form of the martial art to help participants improve their balance, flexibility, mind-body connection and relaxation.
The low-impact exercise provides a “calming experience which helps you take everything out of your mind and helps you focus on your body,” Goens said.
Walkercise is also held at The Center, which hopes to up its offerings to include Zumba Gold, yoga and balance classes this spring. The WOW group would also like to expand, leaders said, to offer an after-school program.
“We’re all about a healthy community,” Oswald explained.
Anyone interested in joining the WOW group, or finding out more about health and wellness classes at The Center, is asked to call (215)679-6550 or visit www.theopenlink.org and click on the tab for The Center.