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Growing program giving new life to older bones

Karla Grant is one of the instructors of the RSVP Bone Builders class at the Veterans Memorial Arena in West Fargo. Dave Wallis

Did you know that nine out of ten women over 75 have osteoporosis? That it just doesn't affect the older population in their 60s and 70s, one out of four women over the age of 45 have it? And that 80 percent of people diagnosed with it are women?

Osteoporosis, which means "porous bones, " is a serious medical condition in which bones become thin, brittle and easily broken, particularly the hip, wrist and spine.

The negative effects are many but it can be treatable.

A free, simple, weight training class held two days a week is striving to accomplish just that, in the process, giving 'bone building' a whole new meaning definition by increasing both muscle strength and bone density.

RSVP Bone Builders, a highly structured osteoporosis prevention and reversal exercise program, is taking place at the Veteran's Memorial Lobby, 1201 7th Ave. E., every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 9 to 10 a.m., sponsored by the West Fargo Park District.

Developed in the late 90s in Massachusetts, the program has seen great success throughout the U.S. focusing on controlled, weight-bearing movements to increase bone density and improve balance and strength, as well as help reduce blood pressure.

Bone Builders is an extension of RSVP+ North Dakota, a federally and locally funded program that connects agencies with needs to volunteers with skills.

Longtime West Fargo resident Teresa Huff, serves as RSVP+ ND coordinator for the southern valley. Overseeing the Bone Builders program is one piece of her job.

She has been with RSVP for six years and before that a sister program. She grew up in north Fargo and moved to West Fargo 33 years ago. Her children grew up in the community and all graduated from West Fargo High School.

The West Fargo program will be a year old next month and Huff is excited about its growth which continues to fluctuate and increase. Right now there are 12 to 15, a mixture of both men and women, attending the classes on a fairly regular basis. Those numbers are expected to 20 this fall.

Huff oversees 23 active bone builder classes in her nine-county territory, including two in Moorhead, three in Fargo, and others in Hillsboro, Portland, Abercrombie, Enderlin, and Finley, just to name a few.

She emphasizes that the West Fargo Park District is a huge supporter of the local program, providing both the space and the weights needed to pull off the program successfully.. "Kim Wangler does an excellent job," Huff said enthusiastically. "Whenever we need something she is always right there making sure we have it right away."

Huff said it is a real plus that the program is free but the best part is the overall benefit which results in "more flexibility and more energy for those attending all the while building bone mass."

"The nice part is anybody can do these exercises," she continued. "We have people on oxygen and people in wheelchairs. The program is not about quantity, it's about quality," she added. "Participants work at their own pace and can join anytime. Its done very slowly, we take water breaks, but it's unbelievable the difference it makes. It's all about exercising without doing harm. If you have pain, then you are doing something wrong or doing too much and need to back off."

She quickly adds that the social opportunities Bone Builders presents are also outstanding. "It is really wonderful those participating are getting companionship here. They go out for breakfast after class, and give each other rides. The class is not only good for their body but good for their well-being. "

Teaching the classes are RSVP bone builder leaders: Joan Barta, Peggy Kaler, Paul Kensok, Karla Grant and Kathy Schmidt, all West Fargo, who trained for the repetitive four-step sessions that include: warm up, balance training, weight bearing, and cool down.

Huff said the most rewarding part of her involvement is hearing about the success stories "It is really gratifying when someone tells me it has made a difference in their lives." Here she mentions an 80-year old lady who she stopped and talked to as she finished mowing her lawn telling Huff "if it wasn't for bone builders I wouldn't be out cutting my grass."

Or the other lady who after four months in the program built up enough strength in her arms to be able to lift herself up from her wheelchair and stand.

Huff said one of her ongoing goals is to increase interest and awareness in Bone Builders. "We have room for a lot more individuals in our sessions and we encourage people to check us out."

Huff isn't able to be at every session but she does stop in to each occasionally to make sure that everything is running smoothly and offer other elements into the mix. "We also like to incorporate educational pieces into the program and once a year we try to do a survey. Last year a very helpful depression screening was conducted on all the participants."

As for her West Fargo connection, Huff said it "really easy here. It is a fun job that is truly very rewarding. These are my best days when I am out with people. You really get to know them. I love it!"

Those wanting to become a part of the Bone Builders program are welcome and encouraged to do so. All that is required is filling out a consent form and returning a medical clearance statement for exercise form from your doctor.

Anyone wishing more information or wanting to sign up for the program can contact Huff at 701-231-9753 or