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Stay Strong Stay Healthy program shows that fitness has no age limit

For nearly two decades, the University of Missouri‘s Stay Strong Stay Healthy (SSSH) program has been pivotal in promoting physical fitness among older adults. Since its inception in 2005, the program has transcended state boundaries, benefiting over 20,000 seniors across five states.

Designed for individuals aged 60 and above, SSSH offers an eight-week strength training curriculum, emphasizing exercises like squats, bicep curls, and lunges. It’s not just about the physical aspect; the program thrives in creating a warm, welcoming environment where seniors can exercise safely and socially.

Helping older adults stay independent 

Stay Strong Stay Healthy is led by Professor Stephen Ball from the MU College of Health Sciences. “One thing I always preach when it comes to physical activity is: some is better than none, more is better than some, and too much is difficult to get.” 

“As the United States population is aging, I want to make a difference by helping older adults stay independent as they age and send the message that you don’t need an expensive gym membership with a personal trainer to stay active. We created a community-based program so older adults can exercise with others who look like them in a more comfortable, social environment,” said Professor Ball.

Enormous benefits 

Participants in the MU Extension program consistently report an increase in physical energy and self-confidence. Furthermore, multiple peer-reviewed studies show that the program improves muscle strength, balance, flexibility and sleep. Notably, the training has been proven to reduce participants’ risk for falling – a big concern for aging adults. 

“Another benefit we often hear about is the social enjoyment participants have spending time with other older adults,” said Professor Ball. “While it is certainly not expected, participants sometimes take the instructors out for lunch or ice cream after class as a sign of gratitude, appreciation and friendship.”

The program comprises two levels, each spanning eight weeks. A recent study attesting to the success of the Level 2 class found that participants not only maintained but also improved their health gains from Level 1. This advancement is a testament to the program’s structured and effective approach. 

Invaluable opportunities 

The benefits of Stay Strong Stay Healthy extend to MU students as well, offering them invaluable opportunities to lead classes and hone essential skills like relationship-building and leadership. 

“I learned the importance of making the participants feel comfortable – a skill you can only really learn through experience – and I feel like I learned as much from the participants as they learned from me,” said Audrey Guess, an undergraduate student instructor majoring in Health Sciences. “I was originally thinking about a career in pediatrics, but now I think I want to continue to help older adults.”

Looking ahead

Professor Ball aims to secure evidence-based status from the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a move that could propel the program to a national platform. Such recognition would not only enhance funding opportunities but also reinforce the program’s commitment to reducing fall risks among older adults, thus promoting their independence and quality of life.

MU’s Stay Strong Stay Healthy program is more than just a fitness initiative. It’s a movement championing the health and independence of older adults, proving that age is just a number when it comes to staying active and healthy.

“We are proud of our impact so far, and we’re just getting started,” said Professor Ball. “Because of the popularity and success of our program, we’re piloting a Level 3 class to help participants continue their forward momentum. Not only are we changing the lives of the participants by improving their health as they age, we are also providing professional development opportunities for our students at MU as well.”

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

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