Aging Well: Instructors empower others to feel better

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— Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles about Aging Well fitness and wellness class instructors in Routt and Moffat counties. This feature appears once per month on the Aging Well page.

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Kathy Shea teaches Healthier Living Colorado in Moffat County.

Kathy Shea

Class: Healthier Living Colorado

Where: Moffat County

Chronic illness can be life-changing, making a person feel like their future and health are reeling out of control.

Kathy Shea knows this from experience. She has rheumatoid arthritis and also copes with pain from injuries she suffered in a serious car wreck.

She also knows that a person can feel empowered and make healthy choices — lessening symptoms and improving their quality of life — even if they can’t change the circumstances of their disease.

The important breakthrough for Shea, one that helped her see brightness through frustration and pain, came through a Healthier Living Colorado workshop offered through the Aging Well program of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

The workshop help participants cope with a variety of health challenges with effective strategies for setting and working toward goals. Nutrition, exercise and stress management are among topics guiding participants on a self-help path to feeling better.

“I think the words ‘self-management’ really struck me because it seems like people are always looking for someone else to come in and fix you … you have to step in, if you are able, and do it yourself,” Shea said.

Practical tools from the six-week course helped Shea reach successes in her own life and inspired her to spread the word by leading the workshops herself.

She has been co-leading Healthier Living Colorado workshops with other instructors in Craig for the past five years and looks forward to beginning two more — a Healthier Living Colorado class and Healthier Living Diabetes class — this week.

“I love doing this, I really do,” she said.

Participants in Shea’s workshops have coped with a wide variety of health challenges, including Crohn’s disease, depression, heart surgery, amputation, weight issues, lupus, fibromyalgia and diabetes.

Valuable information, the participatory nature of the class and the resulting camaraderie and support help participants overcome discouragement to see the value in every little step toward better health. Many also become good friends in the process.

“The thing I notice the most is that people — maybe those I was most concerned about making it through the class — have a change in attitude … they learn to do however much they can and realize every little part of that is success,” Shea said.

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Annette Zuber teaches Tai Chi for Health in Routt County.

Annette Zuber

Classes: Tai Chi for Health

Where: Routt County

Hayden, like many places, has seen tai chi evolve from an abstract concept to a serious outlet for people seeking a gentle, yet powerful, way to stay healthy.

Tai Chi for Health — a modified tai chi class offered by the Aging Well program of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association — is offered through the week at the Haven Community Center.

Annette Zuber, who teaches classes Wednesdays and soon will lead a new class Fridays, has been a big part of the effort to spread tai chi’s health benefits in the Hayden community.

“Teaching is very rewarding,” she said. “I love watching people get it, practicing with them and becoming a little tai chi family.”

Like many Aging Well instructors, Zuber began teaching after experiencing the benefits of Aging Well fitness — in this case, Tai Chi for Health — as a participant.

Zuber had been practicing Qigong, a Chinese health exercise that combines deep breathing with graceful stretching movements and mindful intent. Tai Chi for Health was an opportunity for Zuber to experience health benefits similar to qigong while practicing with others.

Tai chi improves muscle strength, flexibility and balance and, with practice, facilitates a sense of calm and well-being. These benefits work together to encourage equilibrium between the body and mind, a connection that can extend to everyday life and is hard to find in other activities.

“I honestly just think that tai chi and qigong are good for my soul,” she said.

Sharing tai chi’s benefits through teaching was a natural step for Zuber. Tai Chi for Health, a gentle program developed specifically for older adults and people with arthritis and other health challenges, is particularly welcoming to people new to tai chi.

Participants in Zuber’s classes have ranged in age from 30 to 88. Some come with canes and practice from a chair while others drop in between other fitness activities.

Zuber also practices Tai Chi for Health with residents of The Haven Assisted Living Center once per week.

“Becoming involved in Aging Well, I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to teach and encourage wellness in my community,” she said. “I feel blessed, I really do.”

New classes

Aging Well, a program of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, offers a variety of fitness and wellness programs in Routt and Moffat counties. The following are just a few new summer classes. For a full list of programs and locations, visit www.nwcovna.org (click on “Services” and “Wellness and Aging Services”) or call 970-871-7676.

■ Healthier Living Colorado — Craig

When: 1:30 to 4 p.m. Thursdays, June 9 to July 14

Where: Northwest Colorado Community Health Center

Cost: $20 for materials

Contact: To register, call 970-871-7676

■ Healthier Living Diabetes — Craig

When: 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, June 9 to July 14

Where: Northwest Colorado Community Health Center

Cost: $20 for materials

Contact: To register, call 970-871-7676

■ Tai Chi I for Health — Hayden

When: 9 to 10 a.m. Fridays, June 10 to July 29

Where: Haven Community Center

Cost: A $3 suggested donation per class. Registration is not necessary

■ Tai Chi I for Health — Yampa

When: 10 to 11 a.m. Saturdays, June 11 to July 25 (no class July 2)

Where: Yampa Town Hall

Cost: A $3 suggested donation per class. Registration is not necessary.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7606.

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