Karol Osborne | 9/8/2017 3:55:27 PM
(09/08/17) OAK GROVE, La. — From babies to boomers, the West Carroll Parish community is embracing healthy living through active lifestyles and healthful eating as part of the LSU AgCenter-sponsored Healthy Communities initiative.
“We were seeing all the basic chronic diseases — obesity issues, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension — so encouraging people to exercise and add more fruits and vegetables in the diet became the No. 1 prescription,” said Cynthia Stephens, AgCenter extension agent.
Community-based programs, such as a chair-assisted exercise class for seniors and yoga for children, have encouraged physical activity and provided a platform for presenting a broad range of nutrition education lessons, Stephens said.
Peggy Allen, 86, regularly participates in a senior exercise group. Even though she must wear knee braces, she is able to do the exercises and has seen many health benefits, she said.
“After my stroke, my balance was not good, so this has really been good for me,” she said.
The Healthy Communities concept was developed as a result of the West Carroll initiative, which serves as the model for all Healthy Community programs statewide. Its framework helped secure funding for a Healthy Communities grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Gina Eubanks, AgCenter family and consumer sciences program leader.
“In communities with limited resources, both human and financial, it is important for people to be engaged in programs based on what they believe are the greatest local health issues to increase success and sustainability,” Eubanks said.
The West Carroll Healthy Communities initiative began in 2012 when community leaders attended an open forum to identify health needs, said Terri Crawford, AgCenter family and consumer sciences and 4-H regional coordinator.
“Residents have since come together to form five work groups and identified specific projects focusing on heathy eating, physical activity, gardening, community development and research,” Crawford said.
School and community gardens also have been established in the parish, and participants are growing fresh vegetables in small containers and raised beds.
But the exercise classes are among the most popular features of the program.
“I walk every day, but this adds something to what I am already doing,” said Jane Wactor, another exercise class participant. “I like the encouragement and motivation of being with people.”
Participants have seen great improvements in strength and mobility, Stephens said.
“The ladies in the exercise group started out with no weights, then added water bottles and are now using small 1- and 2-pound hand weights,” she said. “The ladies have reported having more energy, are able to do more and sleep better.”
Each time the group meets, Stephens includes a brief lesson about concepts like staying hydrated, healthy recipe substitutions or bone health, for example.
AgCenter area nutrition agent Brittany Seay is collaborating with Stephens. One lesson Seay presented stressed the importance of adding low-resistance strength training to cardiovascular-focused activity to increase bone density.
“Common things around the house can be used for resistance training, like canned vegetables and filled water bottles — just adding something extra to what they are already doing,” Seay said.
Plans are underway to open more exercise groups in neighboring communities and begin a walking campaign this fall.
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” participant Virginia Calhoun said of the classes. “I realize that as I’ve aged, I’ve lost some of the skills that I used to take for granted, like walking a straight line or balancing on one foot. This has helped me regain those skills.”
For the younger residents of the community, the Yoga for Kids program has been a huge success, Stephens said.
In addition to a weekly yoga session with 2- and 3-year olds, Stephens has collaborated with physical education teachers in third through fifth grade to offer yoga classes in schools. She plans to provide yoga training for teachers and volunteers to expand the program to reach more grade levels.
Stephens worked with a special education group last year to present the 4-H Yoga for Kids program.
“I had teachers and parents respond that the activities helped to improve the students’ coping skills,” she said.
The AgCenter partners with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the Louisiana Department of Health to support Healthy Communities programs in Madison, Tensas, St. Helena and East Feliciana parishes.
Cynthia Stephens leads a group of children in yoga class at Wee Care in Oak Grove. The class is part of the LSU AgCenter’s Healthy Communities program, which encourages greater physical activity with interactive games and yoga classes for kids. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSUAgCenter