Boning Up

A new program helps seniors—and others—build bone density and functional strength, meaning, for many, it’s easier to get through the day.

Personal trainer Ron Shoop of Hockessin Athletic Club helps Kim Bogia develop the kind of strength that helps prevent falls and injuries. Photograph by John LewisPratfalls struck our funny bones long before Rob Petrie tumbled over the ottoman, but no bone is funny when it’s broken.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalization and death in adults 65 and older, sending one senior to the emergency room every 18 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With another baby-boomer turning 65 every seven seconds, the number of people at risk of falling is growing fast.

“The aging population needs to understand that they’re going to enter a stage of functional decline,” says Dr. Greg Ellis, of Temple University School of Medicine. “Before they know it, age 60 and 70 will be upon them, and they’re going to start falling, but not many of them are doing anything about it.”

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A local health center has an answer: StandStrong Clinics, which help people grow stronger, which increases their bone density, so that they might avoid catastrophic falls.

Ellis has researched the topic extensively. He says loss of strength and balance often leads to a fall and loss of freedom for an older person. Half of those hospitalized after a fall never return to independent living. Half of those who lie on the floor for more than an hour after a fall die within six months, even when there is no injury.

Nearly half of the older adult population lacks the physical capacity to get up without help. Marge Yearsley, 74, of Hockessin, was one of them until recently, when she began training at the new StandStrong Clinic at the Hockessin Athletic Club.

“For the first time in years, I can get off the floor using my own arm and body strength,” says Yearsley, who now enjoys playing on the floor with her grandchildren without the worry of getting back up. And Chris Albertus, 58, of Newark is mowing her lawn again—something she enjoys but hadn’t been able to do for many years. For six months following a bad fall in 2002, Albertus didn’t walk unless necessary. Until enrolling in StandStrong, she could do nothing physical except her work as a massage therapist.
 

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StandStrong vice chairman Bob Carpenter and chairman Roger Ralph. Photograph by John LewisHockessin Athletic Club owners Bob Carpenter and Roger Ralph had people like Yearsley and Albertus in mind when they began researching fitness programs and technology that would better serve older adults.

Ellis encouraged Carpenter and Ralph to address fall prevention, which led them to create StandStrong Clinics.

StandStrong helps people “55 and better” improve their functional strength and balance so they can maintain independence and engage more easily in their daily activities. Of special interest are older adults at risk for osteoporosis, or loss of bone density.

Osteoporosis affects about 8 million American women and 2 million men, says Dr. Steven Kushner of Christiana Care Health System, but women are the primary victims because their smaller bones grow thin faster as they lose estrogen during menopause.

“Some authorities report one out of every two women will get osteoporosis,” says Kushner, and “two out of five women who reach the age of 50 will have a fracture due to osteoporosis at some point in their lifetime.”

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Because osteoporosis causes little or no discomfort in its early stages, only a small number of individuals are diagnosed and treated, Kushner says. A visit to the doctor for an osteoporosis risk assessment is essential. Screening is simple, painless and non-invasive.

There are some common risk factors that can be addressed by both sexes to help prevent osteoporosis. Kushner points to examples of cigarette smoking, low body weight, low calcium intake, alcoholism and inadequate physical activity.

“Prevention is the most important message that can be given to those at risk for osteoporosis,” Kushner says. He emphasizes that “regular weight-bearing exercise is paramount to keep one’s bones healthy and strong.”

Fitness club owners know all too well that getting people to exercise can be a real challenge. “Only 15 percent of the adult population belongs to a fitness center, many of whom don’t use their membership,” Carpenter says. “Of that, maybe 25 percent are over the age of 55.”

He and Ralph realize that though their family wellness center has nearly 13,000 members, they’re not reaching or meeting the needs of many older adults. With StandStrong, that’s beginning to change.

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StandStrong removes the barriers of time, expense and discomfort that prevent some from exercising in a traditional club. StandStrong clients have a separate entrance to the clinic, where they work with only a few other people, supervised by a trainer, in a comfortable, supportive environment. With only two 15-minute sessions per week, minimal exertion and no risk of injury, they see rapid results.

Through the use of specialized bioDensity equipment that increases strength through isometric exercise, clients increase bone mass and organ function and improve joint support. Albertus, who had a full knee replacement in April 2008, can testify to its effectiveness. “I built more muscle in my left leg in the five weeks than in the entire six months of rehabilitation following my surgery,” she says. “Now I can do deep knee bends standing on my left leg.”

StandStrong combines bioDensity training with PowerPlate training, which is used by many professional and collegiate athletes. (Users stand on a platform that vibrates. Stabilizing themselves requires users to employ all muscles, resulting in an all-over body workout. The result is better strength and balance, improved blood flow and nerve function.) StandStrong also includes balance-enhancing training developed by Ellis and Greg Maurer, president of StandStrong Clinics.

Carpenter gave his 91-year-old grandmother, Mary Carpenter, a PowerPlate vibration platform for her home in March 2008. In November she joined StandStrong’s free eight-week pilot program, along with about 75 other participants. Results of their sessions were collected in a database for research. Mary could feel her strength improve with each visit to the clinic.

“The great thing is that you go in there, it’s only a few minutes, you don’t have to change your clothes, and you can go home,” says Mary Carpenter, who can now go up and down the stairs with greater ease and mobility. “It has helped me with keeping straight, and it has sort of pepped me up a little. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

Ralph says the founders are happy to share information as they create a center for best practices. “We want the StandStrong clinic to be a model for other clubs and to see the technology being used not only in health clubs, but by physicians, chiropractors and at stand-alone sites. We see a great need throughout the aging population, and we want to make a difference in a way that is accessible and affordable for everyone.”

For more information, visit www.standstrongclinics.org.

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