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Tai Chi for Better Balance
By Annette Langenstein, Staff Writer
Published in the October 13, 2016 edition

Melissa Sperry, MSN, is a busy lady! She works full-time on the staff of Southwestern Oregon Community College as a nursing educator, on call for the Home Health Department of Bay Area Hospital, and in her spare time coordinates and teaches Tai Chi for Better Balance, with grants provided through the Area Agency on Aging.

I spoke with Melissa about her classes, learning that she’s been a nurse for about 18 years, and has worked in all areas of health care including community health, home health, and hospital management.

“About six years ago,” said Melissa, “I participated in an instructor training class in Tai Chi for Better Balance. I liked the class so much that I felt it was important to keep it going. This is a part of Tai Chi that is specifically designed to teach eight forms that are adapted for balance and to improve strength. It was first developed by the Research Institute in Eugene, Oregon, has been endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and the Area Agency on Aging, and is currently the gold standard for strengthening and fall reduction for seniors.  I’ve been teaching it for six years now.”

Melissa Sperry is a registered nurse who teaches Tai Chi to many students on the South Coast.

Classes in Tai Chi for Better Balance are widespread in the Portland and Eugene areas, but Melissa has concentrated on introducing them to the southern Oregon coast. “There are multiple classes,” she said. “I’ve got one in Lakeside, four in Coos Bay, three in North Bend, and one in Coquille, Bandon and Powers. But I’m not doing this all alone: I’ve got about 12 certified instructors helping me.”

So who can benefit from these Tai Chi classes? “Everybody,” Melissa replied. “I’ve even had some children participating in the class, and they’ve loved it!  But the age group actually includes people in their 30’s to late 90’s.”

Aging and reduction of balance goes hand in hand, but muscle strength also decreases with age. Health problems, medications, etc., can affect your balance, as can vision and hearing problems.  The most important thing is to remain active and keep using our muscles.  

“Walking is fantastic,” said Melissa, “But people need to feel comfortable doing it. A fall will take away your confidence; fear of getting hurt or breaking something also does this. My program is so easy it can be started from a sitting position, then gradually move to a standing one.”

Tai Chi for Better Balance classes last 12 weeks, and cover just 8 forms. Each class is tailored for the group that’s taking it. For instance, Melissa has some students that have been with her since she started teaching six years ago, so their class will move along more quickly. “We do warm-ups, stretching, and cool-down,” said Melissa. “We want our students’ muscles to have a chance to warm-up and get ready to move, and then get a good cool-down. The class typically lasts from 45 minutes to one hour.”

I asked Melissa if there were any future plans for these classes. “We want to keep these classes going,” she replied. “We’re seeing so much improvement in our students in regards to their balance and confidence, but they’re also reporting decreased joint pain, less pain in their lower backs, and just a general sense of well-being. These classes are doing more than just improving balance and strength, and people that take them keep coming back, so our retention rate is really good.”

“I’m also hoping to expand the area these Tai Chi classes are offered in,” Melissa continued. “We started two brand new classes in August, and we’d like to include more communities, especially farther south into Curry County. And I’d also like people to know that we have a grant available that covers the cost of these classes if you’re aged 60 or older, or  disabled.  There are other options available, too; I try to work with people so they can always afford to take one of these classes, because we’re seeing a 55-60% improvement in balance after just 12 weeks.”

 If you’re interested in improving your overall balance and strength, give Melissa a call at 850-207-1469. “I would love to see more people taking advantage of this wonderful program,” she said.

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