Aging Well: Tai Chi your way to better health

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Tamera Manzanares/courtesy

Instructor Molly Fetcher, left, and Jean-Marie Button practice a series of moves in a Tai Chi practice aimed at relaxing arthritic joints. Aging Well sponsors the free class at the North Routt Preschool for people 50 and better.

Tai Chi opportunities

• Three classes remain in the current Aging Well Tai Chi series. The classes are from 3:15 to 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7 and 14 at the North Routt Preschool, 50710 Routt County Road 129 (across from the Home Ranch). Participants have the opportunity to enjoy ice tea and lemonade with preschoolers following the class. For more information, call 871-7676.

• CNCC and Aging Well will be offering a Tai Chi class during Wellness Wednesdays in Craig. The class will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Aug. 27 through Dec. 19 at the American Legion, 1055 Moffat County Road 7. The classes are free to Moffat County residents age 62 and older. Registration forms are available at the American Legion. For more information, call 871-7676.

• CMC in Steamboat Springs is offering beginning, intermediate and advanced Tai Chi classes Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Aug. 28 through Dec. 13. The classes are $43 for in-district residents. For class times and registration information, call 870-4444 or go to www.coloradomtn.e...

The health benefits of exercise are immeasurable, but the prospect of starting an exercise routine can be a bit daunting. Special equipment and clothing, gym memberships, hours of lessons or training and high impact activities may not fit into every person's lifestyle.

Tai Chi has long offered a gentle path toward better physical and mental health and is extremely accessible to people of all ages and health conditions. It also has been found to be particularly effective in reducing or preventing arthritis and other symptoms of aging.

Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that combines deep breathing and mental concentration with slow and graceful movements. Participants can learn basic routines in just a few classes, while various Tai Chi styles provide endless physical and mental challenges to the dedicated student.

"It's very calming and very aligning," said Jean-Marie Button, who has participated in a Tai Chi class aimed at relaxing arthritic joints. The class, held at North Routt Preschool, is sponsored by the Aging Well program.

Button has been intrigued by Tai Chi ever since living in San Francisco and seeing hundreds of people gather in parks every morning to practice the discipline. She decided to try it to see if it might relieve her chronic neck pain.

After two classes she was able to practice the 12-movement routine at home in the morning and evenings. She already is feeling less neck pain and also is sleeping better.

"It's very meditative," she said.

Studies have shown Tai Chi is particularly beneficial to people with arthritis because it gently moves all joints, muscles and tendons increasing flexibility and reducing stiffness. It also improves muscle strength needed to keep joints stable and prevent injury and improves circulation to help with healing and muscle strength.

An important component of Tai Chi is Qigong movements or breathing/meditative exercises which cultivate Qi or life energy through the body. This facilitates relaxation and opens the body's energy channels to improve healing and overall health.

"In so much of what we do exercise-wise movements guide our breath, whereas with this, our breath guides our movements," said Molly Fetcher, who teaches the Aging Well Tai Chi class.

In addition to improving strength and agility, studies and research suggest Tai Chi improves balance, posture and cardiovascular health, reduces chronic pain and helps lower blood pressure among other likely benefits.

The meditative aspect of Tai Chi, which helps instill a sense of well-being, clarity and relaxation, is what attracted Dorothy Brown to the discipline.

"It's very stress-relieving : It helps me escape for a moment and do something good for myself," said Brown, who will teach the upcoming Tai Chi class offered by Colorado Northwestern Community College and Aging Well during Wellness Wednesdays in Craig.

Tai Chi is suitable for anyone because it's slow paced, yet it challenges students to internalize movements so they are able to do them on their own.

"It's about becoming comfortable with the movements and getting them to come naturally to you," Brown said.

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