Expanding the health and vitality of older adults in our community

United Way of Northwest Vermont will be adding ten new Bone Builders classes in Chittenden and Grand Isle counties by the end of March 2020, thanks to a recent grant from The University of Vermont Medical Center—helping adults age 55 and older gain strength, balance and prevent falls.


UVM Medical Center recently granted $10,000 to add to the already 20 free Bone Builders classes serving more than 400 residents in 16 towns in Northwest Vermont. The grant will help to cover the costs of weights, training for volunteer instructors, training materials and associated staff travel expenses.

Bone Builders is an evidence-based, volunteer led exercise program that prevents and reverses osteoporosis. Bone Builders addresses all three components of healthy aging: decreasing risk of disease, social connection and regular exercise.

Twice weekly classes throughout the region provide weight training, balance exercises and nutrition education. By using trained volunteer instructors, donated class space and small grants for equipment and training, United Way of Northwest Vermont is able to offer the program at no cost to participants.

According to a Tufts University study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, strength training just twice a week dramatically increases bone density and reduces the risk of fractures due to osteoporosis among women ages 50 to 70. After one year, study participants gained bone density, became stronger and improved balance, significantly reducing the incidence of falling and fractures.

Vermont is one of the ‘oldest’ states in the country, with many aging residents on a fixed income, often living alone and in a rural setting. One of three women and one of seven men older than 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis, with the medical costs of each related hip fracture estimated at $90,000.

Bone Builders classes remove the main barriers to participation: transportation, cost and intimidation. Transportation to commercial gyms can be difficult, especially in the winter. The Bone Builders program reduces travel challenges faced by many older adults by offering classes in both well-populated and more rural communities; in congregate living facilities willing to open their doors to the wider community, well-located senior centers, libraries, schools and other accessible locations. Not only are most commercial facilities less accessible for rural Vermonters, the cost of joining a gym can be prohibitive to many. Many participants also express feeling intimidated by going to a ‘gym.’ A class led by--and attended by--their peers is far more comfortable and enjoyable.

A participant survey conducted in February of 2019 found the following results:

• 82% reported better balance

• 82% reported better flexibility

• 83% reported feeling stronger

• 98% enjoy the social interaction at class.

“I went for a walk with my family over the holidays and was able to keep up with them and do the whole walk, which I haven’t been able to do for a long time,” said one participant.

Another participant said: “I believe people enjoy life more when they feel better. Physically, Bone Builders has helped me improve my posture, have stronger arms and legs and more flexibility. Socially, it’s helped me get to know people in my community.”

By increasing the number of Bone Builders classes, the program is expected to serve more than 600 people by 2020.

The RSVP Bone Builders program will also be offering an “Introduction to Bone Builders” class as part of UVM Medical Center’s fall HealthSource course offerings.

RSVP Bone Builders is a program of United Way of Northwest Vermont. For the full schedule of current Bone Builders classes in your neighborhood, please click here.

To support the program, please GIVE here.

Alison DeFisher