Fit & Strong makes exercise easier on joints

By Gabriella J. Del Rio

More than 27 million Americans suffer with osteoarthritis, a joint disease in which the cartilage between the bones breaks down and makes movements painful, rendering everyday activities, exercise and even walking more difficult.

An exercise program new to Arizona, Fit & Strong, aims to change the game for people with arthritis.  Fit & Strong classes, which began June 1 at the Buckeye Community Center, are geared toward adults over age 50, or people with lower extremity osteoarthritis.

“The program includes gentle stretches, aerobic walking or low-impact aerobics, and exercises to improve lower extremity muscle strength,” says Philip Yabes, Buckeye Community Center manager.

Classes are designed to manage or prevent arthritis and decrease joint pain and stiffness through low-impact exercises. They also have the potential to reduce anxiety and depression, and help people develop healthy lifestyles.

One of the anonymous testimonials on the Fit & Strong website asserts, “It has really helped my arthritis and I have less pain.  I feel like getting up and doing something. I like doing housework and view it now as a form of exercise.”

The program was developed by the Center for Research on Health and Aging, a national organization that focuses on ways for older adults to maintain their health and examines how the healthcare system can address the health needs of older adults.

The award-winning program was founded in Illinois and has been established in nine other states across the country: Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, Texas, and now Arizona.

Each Fit & Strong class includes 60 minutes of exercise, followed by a 30-minute group discussion on a variety of health topics.

“It is different from other exercise programs because it also includes a half-hour during which you will discuss your goals for exercise and managing your arthritis,” Yabes says. “This part of the program is very important because it provides information on how to exercise safely and how to manage other aspects of osteoarthritis.”

In 2006, the program received an honorable mention from the Archstone Foundation Award for Excellence in Program Innovation. According to the Fit & Strong website, the award “recognizes best practice models that have effectively linked academic theory with applied practice in the field of Public Health and Aging.” In 2008, Fit & Strong won the Healthcare and Aging Award, with the review committee declaring that the field and practice of healthcare and health promotion is advanced by sharing Fit & Strong with others in the field.

“The program has added another level to our exercise programming at the Senior Center,” a Fit & Strong instructor wrote on the company’s website. “We are blessed to be able to implement an evidence-based program such as Fit & Strong that has proven to improve the quality of life.”

Classes are held every Tuesday and Thursday from 8:45 to 10:15 a.m. at the Buckeye Community Center, 201 E. Centre Avenue in Buckeye. For more information, call 623-349-6600 or visit