Taking care of your body now will help reduce the risk of developing major health problems later.

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Taking care of your body now will help reduce the risk of developing major health problems later.

Class helps older adults remain active, healthy

Free classes

Healthier Living Colorado will be offered from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Mondays Nov. 10 through Dec. 15 at Sunset Meadows I in Craig. The class, offered through Colorado Northwestern Community College and the VNA's Aging Well program, is free to Moffat County residents 62 and older. To pre-register, call 824-1100. Funds may be available to pay class expenses for younger residents. For information, call Mary Morris at 824-1135.

Additional Healthier Living workshops are planned in Hayden and South Routt County for the beginning of 2009. The free, six-week classes are designed for adults 60 and older with chronic health conditions and their caregivers. For more information or to sign up for future classes in Routt and Moffat counties, call 871-7676.

Staying on top of healthy habits, such as exercise and good nutrition, can be hard enough without the added complications of chronic health problems.

Pain, fatigue, depression and anxiety easily can derail mental and physical health practices that ultimately help individuals live better lives despite having arthritis, diabetes and many other conditions common among older adults.

Healthier Living Colorado, an Aging Well program offered by the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, helps restore the confidence, motivation and information resources these individuals need to get back on track to an improved quality of life.

"The class changes your whole attitude about doing things and doing them daily," explained Mae McCollum, 80, of Craig.

McCollum has diabetes but remains active in community groups and educational activities. The Healthier Living Colorado class reinforced the importance of staying active and also encouraged her to get back into the exercise routines that help her manage her disease.

She now attends exercise classes weekly and tries to walk regularly, even if it means taking an extra lap or two around Wal-Mart.

"I think it's a very good class," McCollum said. "It gets you to thinking, as well as teaches you how to live healthy ... It's the goals they have you set that are really good."

A free, six-week workshop, Healthier Living Colorado is based on the Chronic Disease Self-Management program developed at Stanford University in 1996. The program does not provide medical advice but empowers participants to take better care of themselves with tools including exercise and nutrition, effective communication with caregivers and doctors, and techniques for handling frustration, fatigue, pain and isolation.

Camaraderie and support between participants are important elements of the class, which also has been very helpful to caregivers.

"Being with people and hearing their stories, as well as sharing your own - it just keeps you motivated," McCollum said.

Surveys of Healthier Living Colorado classes throughout the state show that while most participants are between the ages of 65 and 74, significant numbers are age 85 to 94.

The most common health problems among participants are diabetes, heart and lung disease, hypertension, arthritis, cancer and osteoporosis. Other conditions include multiple sclerosis, depression, fibromyalgia and Parkinson's disease.

Various studies of the program together provide strong evidence that it helps participants feel less tired, exercise more, be more socially engaged, feel better emotionally and, in some cases, have less pain, according to a review of findings by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The same report noted that many participants are able to maintain health improvements throughout a two-year period and also spend less money on healthcare.

The proven benefits of the program have attracted the interest and resources of federal and state health agencies concerned about the prevalence of chronic conditions and related deaths and the amount of money spent on treating those illnesses.

Eighty percent of older Americans have at least one chronic condition, while 95 percent of healthcare spending for older adults goes toward treating those conditions, according to the CDC.

In 2006, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment garnered a grant from the U.S. Administration on Aging to fund evidence-based healthy aging programs. The Chronic Disease Self-Management program was on the top of the department's list.

"It was just a no-brainer; we knew we could reach so many people," said Penny Studebaker, the department's Healthier Living Program coordinator.

"It really does help change people's lives."

To effectively spread the program to communities, the department formed a unique partnership with a private Colorado nonprofit, the Consortium for Older Adult Wellness, which provides instructor training for Healthier Living Colorado and other wellness classes.

The partners designated three agencies, including the Northwest Colorado VNA, to help spread the workshop to urban and rural areas throughout the state.

There are two instructors for each Healthier Living Colorado class, which includes a workbook for each students. Costs associated with materials, instructor training and class implementation can easily amount to more than $250 per student, Studebaker said.

Despite the expense, many students pay little or no fees to take the class. This year, the Northwest Colorado VNA received a significant grant from the state Department of Public Health and Environment to help spread the Healthier Living Colorado workshop throughout the Western Slope during a three-year period.

Funds for the grant were derived from the increased excise tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, which was approved by Colorado voters in 2004.

For information about upcoming Healthier Living Colorado classes in Routt and Moffat counties, call 871-7676.

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