New Mexico VA Health Care System
“Superwomen’s Group” Proves Benefits of Exercise
In a small gym on the second floor of the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center, four women stand in a circle, moving their arms forward and backward as they march in place. This same activity could be happening during a pre-dawn physical training (PT) session on any Army post. But all of these women are Veterans and over the age of 65. They are doing PT now because they want to –not because they have to.
The Women’s Wellness Group meets on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, then again on Saturday mornings in the Albuquerque facility’s physical therapy gym. Following their Saturday morning workout, the women go outdoors for a one-hour walk either on the VA campus or at nearby Bullhead Memorial Park. They’re joined at the gym by a VA physical therapist, a recreational therapist, an occupational therapist or a medical doctor. The program, informally labeled by its members as the “Superwomen’s Group,” began in June of 2015. Each new member is given a T-shirt, gym bag, and water bottle. The medical doctor in charge of the program is Dr. Janice Kando of the New Mexico VA Health Care System’s Ambulatory Care Service.
“The women who have been participating in the VA women's wellness program have seen improvement in their strength and stamina, which have been measured by the physical therapists,” said Dr. Kando. “Many have noted that the exercise program has made them more functional at home by improving their balance and strength, which has resulted in fewer falls and the ability to walk longer and faster.”
During a Tuesday afternoon workout, Julianne Paulus King uses a wide elastic band wrapped around a metal parallel bar to lean back and stretch her shoulder and back muscles. The Women’s Army Corps Veteran joined when the group originally formed.
“There’s a lot of improvement in a number of us,” Paulas King said. “The good thing is we do exercises to strengthen the legs. Sometimes getting off of a chair or sofa is a problem, but now they have us doing ‘no arms/no touch’ going down and coming up, and so our legs are strengthened. I have rotator cuff problems so I can’t do a lot, but I do as far as I can. There’s a lot of improvement for all of us here.”
The group’s minimum age recently was dropped from 65 to 55 in order to encourage more women to participate. Getting up and moving about provides a long list of benefits.
“Regular exercise is important for older adults because it improves strength, balance, and function. It also can improve sleep and mood, and reduce chronic pain,” said Dr. Kando.
Other benefits of regular exercise include improved mobility, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced cognitive decline, and reduced likelihood of falls and fall-related injuries. Activities for the group may be expanding.
“In the future, we’re hoping to do some hiking events,” said Barb Tremmel, a VA Recreation Therapy Assistant. “And we also hope to plan a zip-lining trip in the near future. We try to get people to come and teach classes, as well. We’re trying to make it an overall wellness kind of group.”
Women Veterans interested in joining this group can call the medical center’s recreation hall at (505) 265-1711, ext. 4208.