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February 24, 2014

SHE: Empowering Women Through Health and Fitness

Felicia_sobelFelicia Sobel joined SAGE in June, 2011 as its first Women’s Programming Coordinator.  A licensed clinical social worker, she welcomed the opportunity to embrace the goal of expanding programs and events for women in the lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.  The SAGE SHE (Strong. Healthy. Energized) program developed in conjunction with the Lewin Research Group, is a fitness program that is now in its second run. Read more about the group, co-faciliated by Felicia, below.

When I first learned that the federal Office of Women’s Health was providing funds earmarked for a fitness program just for lesbians and bisexual women, I wondered why these particular groups were being singled out. Then I learned that in fact there is a greater proportion of overweight women in this population than in its heterosexual counterpart.  In view of this finding, I realized this program could create a comfortable atmosphere for lesbian and bisexual participants who may feel reluctant to join a gym or other exercise program and knew it could be beneficial to SAGE members.

In planning meetings with an advisory council, including Lewin staff and several professionals representing various health disciplines, as well as myself, the potential of this offering came to light as a truly innovative, holistic approach to health and fitness and weight problems.  The emphasis would not be on losing pounds, but rather on acquiring habits that would lead to improved fitness and health

Each of the 12 sessions of the first program at The SAGE Center included exercises, led by Ruth Gursky (a personal trainer), a discussion group component, and information on nutrition–including pointers on reading food and drink labels, and cooking.

She_felicia

Each participant was given a Fitbit—a pedometer and activity tracking device, along with encouragement to keep track of the steps she took each week. All were invited to go on walks, usually on the Highline, after the weekly sessions.  At each session after submitting their weekly step-tracking forms, participants received step goals for the following week.  Raffles were provided based on attendance and submission of the step data.  Midway through the program and at its conclusion, there were substantial monetary rewards.  Other prizes included Trader Joe’s gift cards, fanny packs and SHE tee-shirts. A major ongoing plus was a healthy dose of fun!

There was a concerted effort to obtain participants’ feedback.  Focus groups were held and the comments were largely positive. Some participants enjoyed the general benefits, such as an improved sense of well-being. Others were  quite specific in what parts of the program helped. One reported having a change of heart about the importance of reading food labels in order to understand what she was actually consuming and how it could affect her health. As one woman said, “For me, a crucial feature of the program was the tone in which the material was presented: warm, supportive, non-judgmental and psychologically healthy.”

The first round of the SHE program, which ran from this past October through early February, yielded sufficient success to warrant a spring version. An informational session will be held on March 5 from 2-3PM and the program will begin its 12-week start on April 2 (2-3:30 PM). To RSVP for the March 5 session or to request more information, please email me at fsobel@sageusa.org.

 
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