Older adults take part in a Tai Chi class at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. The class is among Aging Well exercise classes that have attracted a dedicated following of older adults of all abilities. The classes help improve members' physical and mental health.

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Older adults take part in a Tai Chi class at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. The class is among Aging Well exercise classes that have attracted a dedicated following of older adults of all abilities. The classes help improve members' physical and mental health.

Aging Well: Fitness classes inspire students, instructors

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The Aging Well winter schedule of fitness classes in Routt and Moffat counties will be posted at the bottom of the Aging Well page starting Dec. 29. The schedules also are available at VNA offices in Steamboat and Craig and at www.nwcovna.org. Click on the "Aging Well" link at the top of the Web page.

The Aging Well program is seeking new instructors to teach Arthritis Foundation Fitness classes in the Steamboat Springs and North Routt areas. A free training will be held Jan. 13 at The Haven Community Center in Hayden. For more information, call Jeanne Upbin at 871-7676.

Take some relaxation, add a little relief and empowerment, some friendship and a touch of silliness, and you have the recipe for a typical Aging Well fitness class.

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association is embarking on its fourth year of fitness programming for older adults. Arthritis Foundation Fitness, Aquatics, Tai Chi and N'Balance classes have expanded to the far reaches of Routt and Moffat counties.

The classes are benefiting hundreds of adults, from 50-somethings interested in maintaining their balance, flexibility and strength, to 80- to 90-year olds looking to gently exercise their joints, muscles and sense of humor.

There is no shortage of inspiring stories about participants' dedication and pure enjoyment of the classes.

Sit down with a group of enthusiastic instructors, and they might talk about the time in Yampa when the exercise studio had no heat and, rather than heading home, students proceeded through a flowing sequence of movements donning hats, scarves and mittens.

At The Haven Assisted Living Center in Hayden, Arthritis Foundation Fitness instructor Gena Fischer often uses props such as scarves to help with exercises. One day the whole class - men and women - decided to wrap the scarves around their heads for a bit of comic relief.

"We just laughed and laughed and laughed," Fischer said.

Every instructor will talk about how laughter and camaraderie within their group has kept spirits bright, fused friendships and provided participants a break from their daily grind and challenges.

"The camaraderie of the group is one of the most important aspects," said Nancy Smith, who teaches Arthritis Foundation Tai Chi at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

"Many times, a few students will plan a get together to hike or snowshoe. Other times, we make time for announcements of events of interest in the community."

"I just love the classes and the friendships that have been made."

The social and fun aspect of the classes, combined with exercise techniques proven to relieve joint pain and stiffness, increase strength and circulation and improve balance and relaxation, has resulted in remarkable improvements among participants.

Carol Baily, who teaches N'Balance at Colorado Mountain College, recalled one student's story about how, while attending a volleyball game, she walked down the bleachers instead of the steps.

Although walking on bleachers still is a bit risky, "what was really cool is, she had the confidence to do something she hadn't done in years, Baily said. "She was just so proud and felt so good about herself."

Instructors constantly are inspired by students' enthusiasm and excitement during each step of their progress.

An N'Balance participant was ecstatic to be able to dress standing up, while a woman practicing Tai Chi regained flexibility she had lost because of severe injuries from an accident.

Arthritis Foundation Fitness classes held at the Steamboat Community Center and other venues throughout the Yampa Valley have become an important part of routines for participants such as Marian Tolles and Annabeth Lockhart.

"The classes are definitely improving my fitness level - we exercise all parts of the body, including many 'forgotten' muscles. : The classes contribute to an overall feeling of well-being," Tolles said.

"The class has helped a whole lot with my balance, as well as strength," Lockhart said. "I wouldn't miss it for anything."

An immeasurable benefit of all the Aging Well classes, particularly Tai Chi, is how they help participants better cope with stress, anxiety and the challenges of chronic conditions.

Perhaps the best evidence of this is a situation described by Lisa Wilderman, who is among participants in a Tai Chi class for cancer patients.

It happened during a nearly 4-hour layover at Denver International Airport during the Thanksgiving holiday. Wilderman, who still had six hours of travel ahead of her, suddenly began to feel extremely tired and drained of all energy.

She slowly walked toward the east end of the terminal, stopping at a window overlooking the Front Range and the sun setting over the mountains to the west. Standing several feet from a group of children tossing a toy airplane (which missed her head by inches), she proceeded to practice Tai Chi for 15 minutes.

"Would you believe it? I had energy to finish my travels and my day," Wilderman said. "The Tai Chi made the difference."

Various Aging Well classes are available to accommodate a wide variety of fitness levels and abilities. The classes are open to adults 50 and older, and most classes are free. For more information, call the Aging Well hotline at 871-7676.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tammarie74@yahoo.com.

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