TAI CHI INSTRUCTOR, Roy Imai, leads his students in a "Moving for Better Balance" exercise class at the Senior Center in Placerville on November 27th. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

The Other Side of 50

Exercise is key to mental and physical health

By From page OSF2 | December 24, 2012

Don’t try to tell Rosemary Revell that a stroke automatically takes you out of the game.

Two and a half years ago she suffered a cerebral vascular accident, aka stroke.

Feeling helpless and useless with physical, emotional and speech impairments, she began searching for a practical path to recovery. She found results in NIA, (non-impact aerobics), one of the senior courses offered by El Dorado County’s Active Aging program.

Revell has some advice to people who face her condition.

“Get medical help within two hours, then sign up for Erin’s class,” Revell said.

She’s referring to Erin Davidson, a teacher of alternative exercises, part of the Moving for Better Balance curricula.

“It helps every part of you,” Revell said.

This federally funded program sponsors exercise and education classes in Placerville, Diamond Springs and Cameron Park using both traditional and alternative approaches to balance and vitality.

Program Coordinator Tammy Bragg oversees many senior activities, but the exercise classes are special to her.

“For most seniors, better mental and physical health is connected to consistent exercise,” she observed. “We’re sure proud of our programs and participants.”

Instructors Cess Wolary and Mary Kay Brancheau, each with more than five years of volunteerism in this program, advocate traditional exercise.

Wolary holds classes at the Diamond Sunrise Senior Apartments in Diamond Springs on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and at the Lake Oaks Mobile Home Park off Pleasant Valley Road on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 to 10 a.m.

She points to the progress made by the seniors who stay with the course.

“They tell me how good they feel! We use weights, resistance bands, tubes, beach balls and other stuff to develop strength and confidence. We always stand or sit, no floor movements. And they can do it at home, no big investment.”

She thinks for a moment. “You know, working out with two cans of peas is better than doing nothing.”

Brancheau has been an active aging volunteer for more than five years.

The former jazzercise instructor leads a traditional class that includes mixed chair exercises, balance, aerobics, weights and bands.

Brancheau’s deep-breathing techniques have shown promise in reducing dementia and strokes.

She currently teaches in two locations: Cameron Park Apartments, 3433 Palmer Drive in Cameron Park on Mondays and Thursdays from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. and at the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 6831 Mother Lode Drive in Placerville, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m. Both classes are open to the senior public.

The alternate approaches use martial arts and dance.

Roy Imai is a Tai Chi master trainer and educator, who also volunteers his time for Moving for Better Balance.

This black belt holds classes on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at the El Dorado County Senior Center, 935 Springs St. in Placerville.

“We don’t make warriors out of people,” he laughed, “but we work to restore balance and strength. When people fall less, they break fewer bones. The whole system benefits.”

Erin Davidson, brown belt NIA trainer and educator in the county program, teaches her course on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the First Lutheran Church in Placerville from 8:15 to 9:15 a.m.

Davidson, a certified massage therapist, is in her sixth year of NIA training and teaching.

“NIA borrows nine movements from three physical regimens,” she said. “Martial arts such as Tai Chi and Taekwondo, modern and traditional dance moves, and routines from the healing arts movements. It is gentle, flowing and yoga-like, good for mind, body and spirit. Students who exercise for a month or more experience dramatic improvement.”

Revell is first to agree.

“It isn’t always easy to get to town but it is worth every minute,” exclaimed the Pollock Pines commuter.

Revell’s stroke two and a half years ago didn’t mark the end of her activity and commitment.

“It initiated it,” she enthused. “I have recovered some strength, balance and movement, and made tremendous emotional progress as well,” astounding even her physical therapist.

“The therapist,” she confided, “was preparing a class on how to facilitate getting up, but because of Erin’s teachings, I had already moved beyond that point.”

“We understand body design” said Davidson, “and how to move it without stressing or injuring it. It’s wonderful.”

NIA was created in 1983 by Debbie Rosas Stewart and Carlos Aya Rosas, and is defined as a non-impact physical conditioning program based on the premise that movement is a pathway for self-discovery and personal transformation.

Typically practiced barefoot, NIA involves cardiovascular aerobic exercise and whole-body conditioning.

A three dollar donation can be made at each class but it is not mandatory.

“We want healthy seniors,” declared Bragg. “There’s no price on that.”

El Dorado County’s Active Aging program, Moving for Better Balance, can be reached at 530-621-6151 or information can be found on the Internet at

Peter Tyner

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