Crescenta-Cañada YMCA's Balance and Thrive program

Seniors work on their balance skills during a kickoff of the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA's new Healthy Living program called Balance and Thrive for people 65 and older. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer / April 13, 2014)

Every year, one out of every three people over age 65 experiences a fall. Five years ago, that scary statistic was a reality for La Cañada resident Dianne Osburn.

A self-proclaimed klutz, Osburn often tripped and fell, facing injuries and a loss of confidence that caused her to limit her activity.

"I was on a downward spiral of falling," said Osburn, 69. "I was getting very afraid and nervous about falling, which caused me to fall more."

When Osburn learned the YMCA offered a class that focused on preventing falls through better balance and core training, she joined and signed up. Today, she feels more confident and hasn't had a single falling episode.

"I've tripped many times, but I've never fallen — knock on wood," she said.

That's exactly the outcome the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA's Healthy Living Department envisioned for members when developing its new Balance and Thrive fall prevention initiative. The program, free to members, kicked off in La Cañada Monday with an introductory event at which Osburn spoke.

Balance and Thrive offers participants of any age and fitness level a range of classes centered on movement, balance and posture. The program begins with a comprehensive balance assessment, in which an individual creates a realistic, achievable balance plan.

"This initiative is about prevention," said Healthy Living Director Ana-Marie Schaefer. "It's about having a better quality of life and, ultimately, saving lives."

The program includes follow-up visits, 10-minute balance clinics and ongoing workshops. The idea is to create a holistic program that addresses the needs of members as they age, Schaefer said.

Monday's celebration introduced the many physicians, coaches and instructors involved with Balance and Thrive and featured three Zazz whole body vibration machines, designed to help people stabilize their core muscles.

La Cañada YMCA member Vicky Le Gallienne, 74, attended with daughter Glynda Gomez to see how to improve her balance, and how the new program might help.

"Balance is so important, especially the older you get," said Le Gallienne, who lives with osteoporosis. "I want to see what they have that's going to help."

Balance instructor Bobbi Koonse led Monday's audience in a few simple exercises offered in Balance and Thrive's classes. Attendees rotated hips, stretched arms and wiggled feet in tandem.

"A wider base is a more stable base," Koonse said, spreading her feet apart and bending her knees. "This is your center of balance, right here."

La Cañada resident Dr. Mohammad Malek, 76, attended the kickoff event with his wife, Guity, 72. Although the pair keeps fit through regular exercise, they wanted to learn more about what the YMCA had to offer and perhaps learn some pointers.

"To know is better than not to know," Guity Malek said.

"Yes," Mohammad Malek agreed. "Knowledge is power."

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Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.

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