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    Menopause Peer-Support Groups, Strength Training Enhance Health for Older Women

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    In two other papers, researchers from Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and Oregon State University in Corvallis reported gains in muscle and balance with progressive strength training. Tufts University's Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, author of the book Strong Women Stay Young, described a strength training program that can be done at home by both healthy and frail women to strengthen their muscle and prevent falls.

    Nelson reported a moderate improvement in balance as well as an approximately 3-pound loss of body fat among healthy women participating in the program. For the women at an increased risk of falling, the risk of sustaining an injury due to a fall decreased by 40%.

    Christine Snow, PhD, director of the Bone Research Laboratory at Oregon State University in Corvallis, reported similarly encouraging results with an innovative weighted vest program. Snow believes side to side stability is key in avoiding falls. Women wear the vests and do chair raises, squats, and forward and side lunges with their arms free. As they gain strength, more weights are added to the vest. They also do toe raises without the weighted vests.

    Among 48 women who participated in a nine-month exercise program, she found that lean leg muscle mass improved by 4% and leg fat declined by 8%. "Older women [made less use of] assisted devices to walk, ... and others used the stairs more" as a result of the program, said Snow.

    Both Nelson and Snow agree that these programs give women better mastery of their environment, enhance self-esteem, and help keep women active. While aerobic activity is certainly beneficial in improving cardiovascular health, when it comes to maintaining bone health and avoiding falls, both investigators say strength training is imperative.

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