Building strength, balance and friendship through exercise

Julia Wallace was finishing physical therapy after a knee replacement when she mentioned to her therapist that it would be nice to have a refresher class to keep up with her exercises.

“That’s when she told me about the Strong Bodies program,” said Julia. “I was very interested, and when she called saying the program would be starting at the Aurora Wellness Center in Burlington, I signed up right away.”

Strong Bodies is modeled after a national program, Strong Women.

“We started our class in 2015 and modified it to include women and men,” explained physical therapist Amy Warren, who co-leads the program with Dawn Gruber, a physical therapist assistant. “It’s based on 10 strengthening exercises. We do a warmup, then focus on building strength, improving balance and stretching.”

At 78 years old, the program was just right for Julia.

“The exercises weren’t strenuous, and if I struggled with a particular exercise, Amy would find an alternative. It was perfect for me,” she shared.

The benefits Julia has experienced surprised her and her family.

“I never thought I’d take part in an exercise program. Exercise is a foreign thing for me,” she admitted. “My kids couldn’t believe I was doing it – and that it was working!”

The program’s participants are generally middle-aged to older adults.

“The goal is to engage people in exercise,” said Amy. “At the end of the session, they’ll tell you they feel stronger and have better balance. They also often report having an easier time with daily activities, such as opening a jar or getting up from a chair.”

It’s a great social opportunity as well – participants enjoy each other’s company and even make new friends.

“We form a little family group,” said Julia. “I’ve been participating in the class since it started, and I have good friends there – people I might not have interacted with otherwise.”

For Julia, the class has meant even more: her health and freedom.

“By the end of the first session, I was able to do all the exercises without a problem. It was amazing,” she shared. “By the end of the second, I was only using my walker as a cart to help bring in my groceries. I no longer need it to get around. Now I’m almost 83 years old, and I believe it’s the class that has kept me out of assisted living.”

How you can help

The Strong Bodies classes are funded in part by philanthropy.

“The vision of the program is to teach people to be strong and healthy and to empower them to become positive agents of change for families, communities and beyond,” said Amy.

While Strong Bodies is currently on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you can still make a difference. To learn how you can help people like Julia get stronger and healthier, please contact Jolene Halvorsen at