Steamboat Springs Beverly Lehrer-Brennan, of Steamboat Springs, injured her knee 30 years ago, but it wasn't until arthritis set in that the injury began to limit her active lifestyle.
Following knee surgery, Lehrer-Brennan set to work regaining mobility through physical therapy and exercise, including water aerobics, Tai Chi and N'Balance, a fitness class offered through the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association's Aging Well program.
Lehrer-Brennan, a ski instructor, opted for the Advanced N'Balance class offered through Colorado Mountain College. She has nearly completed her second run of the 10-session course, which has helped her get back on the slopes and into other activities she enjoys.
"I would recommend it for everybody. ... It can give you back a quality of your life," she said. "When you have that taken away from you, it's kind of scary."
Though balance can be lost because of aging, inactivity, injury or disease, it can be regained through physical activity and exercises aimed at rebuilding a person's strength, mobility and confidence.
In an effort to reach more older adults with balance problems, particularly those who are more frail and at risk of falling, Aging Well and CMC have added a Basic N'Balance class to this fall's college offerings.
Another new class, Arthritis Aquatics, aimed at relieving joint pain and stiffness through water exercise, will be offered as a CMC class at Old Town Hot Springs.
How balance works
The body's brain, muscles and bones work together to maintain a person's balance. This system depends on sensory information provided by eyesight, the workings of the inner ear and a person's internal sense of spatial orientation (sense of space independent of vision), according to the American Physical Therapy Association.
Issues related to aging, such as ailing eyesight, poor posture and inactivity are the most common causes of balance problems.
Diseases such as diabetes, which can numb a person's feet and legs, can impair balance, while joint stiffness resulting from arthritis, injuries or surgery on the hips, knees or feet can make a person more vulnerable to falls.
Some medications, including heart and blood pressure medicines, also may increase a person's fall risk because of side effects such as drowsiness and dizziness.
Maintaining or improving balance by becoming stronger and more flexible is important in preventing falls and debilitating injuries that severely can limit a person's independence and quality of life or result in death.
The balance challenge
N'Balance was developed as part of a Balance and Mobility program at the Center for Successful Aging at California State University, Fullerton.
Sponsored by the VNA, Aging Well fitness instructors receive training in N'Balance, Arthritis Aquatics, Tai Chi and other classes at the Academy for Older Adult Wellness Programming in Glenwood Springs.
Basic N'Balance aims to improve balance in individuals who are vulnerable to falling because of illness, surgical procedures or past falls. The class consists of simple poses and exercises mostly done from a chair or large exercise ball.
The class is ideal for individuals who have become less active and, as a result, have experienced muscle weakness and stiffness. Because of past falls or conditions such as osteoporosis, they may have avoided some activities for fear of falling.
While legitimate, these fears can perpetuate a cycle of inactivity that will make a person even more at risk of falling, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.
The Basic N'Balance class provides a safe and engaging environment for these individuals to rebuild the strength, flexibility and confidence to enjoy more activities.
Following a partial knee replacement, tennis professional Carol Baily, of Steamboat Springs, joined an N'Balance class to help rehabilitate her knee. She now leads the Advanced N'Balance class at CMC.
"Tennis is getting harder and harder on my body, and this is a good way for me to stay in shape and work with people," she said.
Using more challenging props and exercises, the Advanced N'Balance class focuses on helping older adults maintain or regain their ability to participate in their favorite physical activities.
"In the advanced class, you're really compromising your balance right off the bat," Baily said.
Participant Lehrer-Brennan has enjoyed the variety and challenges of the exercises, as well as the social aspect of conquering difficult moves with other participants.
"It puts you in so many situations, and you have to work through it," she said. "One day, I may not be able to bend down with my knees as much. The following week, I can go down a little bit more. It's a process."
Participants in the advanced class must be able to walk unassisted and be able to climb a flight of stairs. For help determining which class is best for you, call 871-7676.
Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at email@example.com. For more information, log onto www.agingwelltoday.com.