St. John Valley

‘Bone builders’ class offers a way to address osteoporosis

FORT KENT, Maine — For nearly a year volunteers Danielle Leblanc and Debbie Ottinger have led a group of people in a “bone builders” program, who meet twice a week at an in-service room at the Forest Hill Long Term Care and Skilled Nursing facility in Fort Kent.

Leblanc’s own issues with osteoporosis led her down the path of exploring ways to help reverse and reduce the effects of the affliction. Also, as a retired public health nurse who was previously involved in community wellness programs, she is well aware of how important programs like bone builders are.

Participants at the “bone builders” class at Forest Hill’s in-service room do some light weight work, Monday, April 17. From left are Joan Caron, instructor Danielle Leblanc, Dolores Dumont, instructor Debbie Ottinger and Carol Belanger.
(Don Eno)

The group meets from 10 to 11 every Monday and Wednesday morning, where members use low-impact weight training to help build bone density, improve balance and increase muscle strength. The program is offered collaboratively by the Aroostook Retired and Senior Service Program (RSVP) and Northern Maine Medical Center, which owns Forest Hill.

The class is an evidence-based program developed by Tufts University and can help to reverse the effects of osteoporosis. Fully one half of women and one in five men will suffer a debilitating fracture due to osteoporosis, according to the program brochure.

Leblanc said the exercises are designed to stimulate the tiny muscle fibers directly adjacent to the bones. This, she said, helps to push calcium into the bones. More explosive movements or heavy weights can have the opposite effects, according to Leblanc.

The program also helps participants with increasing and maintaining balance. As bones age or weaken due to things such as osteoporosis, falling can lead to fractures and associated lingering health issues. Having good balance can lessen the chance of falling.

Brisk walking is another good way to help strengthen bones, Leblanc and Ottinger said. Running may be too stressful on some people’s bones and walking too softly does not generate the same calcium-pumping effects.

“Many of us go walking too,” said Ottinger, who also takes a fitness class at the Fort Kent Senior Center.

As a retired wellness advocate, teaching the bone-building class, which also incorporates educational components, is a natural fit for Leblanc. And, as a former drill instructor in the U.S. Air Force, Ottinger is used to leading groups in fitness routines.

The class regularly has between eight and 10 participants each session.

The bone builders class is free and open to community members of all ages. For more information contact Judy Anderson, Aroostook RSVP director, at 764-3396, or Joanne Fortin, NMMC director of communications, at 834-1353.

Aroostook RSVP is sponsored by the Aroostook Agency on Aging, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the United Way of Aroostook and many local businesses. Started in 1974, Aroostook RSVP has partnered with more 100 nonprofit agencies and public organizations throughout the county to place volunteers.

Participants at the “bone builders” class at Forest Hill’s in-service room do some light weight work, Monday, April 17. From left are Joan Caron, instructor Danielle Leblanc and Dolores Dumont. (Don Eno)

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