An oasis for seniors

At least three days a week, 82-year-old David Furnas heads to the gym.

His destination is no Equinox, where the workout-obsessed flock to pump iron in tight shirts. Rather, Furnas exercises in a place where the members are more likely to sport gray hair than Under Armour and Lulululemon, pay attention to their heart rates and walk, not run, on a treadmill.

Furnas lifts weights inside the fitness center at the OASIS senior center in Newport Beach, an unexpectedly popular place for seniors looking to loosen their joints and build core strength.

The gym boasts about 1,900 members — nearly double the 1,000 expected when the city spent $11.5 million rebuilding the senior center three years ago.

And that's excluding those younger than the required age of "50 or better" who have tried to sneak inside.

"I mean, it's a great deal. We're open seven days a week," exclaimed Jennifer Sisoev, the fitness center coordinator. "We're not bursting at the seams by any means, because it's a steady flow."

Incorporating gyms into senior centers has been a developing trend in recent years, and Newport Beach has been approached by other cities considering the option, said Laura Detweiler, the city's director of recreation and senior services.

The OASIS fitness center provides a comfortable atmosphere for people who want to work out with their own age group at their own pace, and some seniors have been inspired to visit the Corona del Mar facility because of their experience, she said.

"It's kind of changed their mind of what a senior center is," Detweiler said. "It's really brought some awareness to the facility and all that it has to offer."

Annual memberships cost $125 for residents and $175 for non-residents.

Though the gym is trying also to cater to younger seniors, the current clientele is largely older than 70. Some come with canes, walkers and even oxygen tanks, but caretakers are not allowed.

On Monday, 290 members checked in to use the machines. The next day, 240 came by.

Raymond Otis, 76, arrived in his black sweatsuit when the center opened at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Otis, who had open-heart surgery several years ago, moved from doing cardiac rehabilitation at Hoag Hospital, which donated $2.5 million to the OASIS center, to completing his exercises at the gym. He has also since undergone knee and finger surgeries.

Jokingly calling himself the "bionic man," Otis explained that such medical procedures — and keeping up with his health afterward — were important for him to continue his work as an artist. He teaches art classes at the senior center, among other places, and many of his paintings hang on the walls there.

At the gym, Otis uses the equipment for about an hour, thinking and relaxing as he works out, then walks on the beach.

"It was fortuitous because I live all the way across the street," he said of his proximity to the new facility.

If the gym member lives in Newport Beach, as about 90% do, he or she can get a ride to the center. Others drive themselves, while those like Otis and Furnas choose to go on foot.

Furnas joined others Wednesday for a training session with Danielle Hernandez, who remarked that the 82-year-old's posture had certainly improved as a result of their time together. Five other trainers work with members, providing their services at an extra cost.

Hernandez faced a TechnoGym Kinesis machine, one of 37 pieces of equipment in the space, all approved by physical therapists for use by an aging population. She stood between the two weight-bearing cables, which ran vertically from near the ground to well above her head.

Holding her arms straight in front of her and wrapping her fingers around the cables' sliding grips, she moved her arms laterally, squeezing her shoulder blades as her fists sliced through the air to point out to the sides.

"Remember to breathe out," she reminded Furnas as he gave the move a try.

He suggested they move the weight up, and Hernandez did so, warning, "If you start to feel like you're compromising your form …"

Furnas cut her off with a smile: "Well, I wouldn't want to do that!"

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