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Age is no obstacle to fitness for these Newport seniors

Kathleen Brennan, 91, of Newport Beach takes a brisk walk every day while carrying her transistor radio.
(Susan Hoffman)

Kathleen Brennan’s earliest exposure to exercise was seeing her mother play 52-card pickup.

“I saw Mom throw 52 cards up in the air and when they would land on the floor she would stoop and pick them up one by one. That was her way of exercising,” said Brennan, of Newport Beach.

Though Brennan says she didn’t pay much attention, it must have rubbed off on the now-91-year-old.

She attends the Active Aging class three days a week at Shape-Up Health Club in Corona del Mar, emphasizing muscular strength and range of motion.

“Most people in the class are accomplished exercisers,” Brennan said. “We’re so happy to see each other when we get to class ... we’re all kind of hooked together.”

While much is made of exercising in middle age and earlier to help prevent health problems later in life, a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Assn. indicated that exercise can have substantial benefits for senior citizens as well. Researchers concluded that people in their 60s can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease simply by moving more — doing household chores or active hobbies like gardening.

Though Brennan enjoys the social interaction in her class, being outdoors for her daily walks gives her time to reflect and appreciate nature. Every afternoon like clockwork, she sets out from her home in Bayside Village, traveling at a brisk pace toward Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort while carrying a transistor radio so she can listen to the news.

Her son Terry, who has lived with her since her husband died two years ago, says his mom takes care of herself. “I drive Miss Daisy, and I’m just her chef,” he said.

Brennan was a flight attendant from Wakeeney, Kan., before she married and moved to California in 1952. She became a housewife with six children. When they had graduated from high school, she went back to work as an independent real estate broker in San Juan Capistrano.

Her exercise routine began by watching Jack LaLanne on TV as a young mother. When she retired and moved to Newport Beach in the mid-1980s, she enrolled in exercise classes and hasn’t stopped.

Terry attributes her stamina and longevity to being consistent with her exercise routine, plus eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep and drinking two glasses of red wine a day.

Kristi Peckham, Lea Campbell, Neil Ross, Harold Graham, 85, instructor Trevor Duncan and Brian Carroll, from left, attend a group personal training class at the Training Zone in Costa Mesa.
(Susan Hoffman)

On the other hand, retired Newport Beach resident Harold Graham, 85, is new to group fitness classes.

Graham, who is originally from Iowa, taught high school in Big Bear for 20 years before moving to Orange County in 1978 to become a commercial property developer. In college, he played basketball for Pepperdine University, and badminton before that. He now plays golf three days a week at Santa Ana Country Club and badminton once a week at the Orange County Badminton Club in Orange.

Graham said he always has been a competitive person who would try different things, which is how signing up for an exercise class came up.

When his son lost 30 pounds during four months of training at the Training Zone in Costa Mesa, Graham took notice.

“I was impressed after I observed the circuit training class there. It looked like a good place to start, and now after six or so months, I’m hooked,” Graham said. “I did feel a little hesitant being one step behind and 20 to 25 years older than the other people. I also felt self-conscious infringing on younger people. When I was younger, I wanted to play on my level and not someone older.”

Trevor Duncan, who teaches the class — which is considered more of a shared personal training class designed for all fitness levels and ages — said any concerns he had about Graham’s ability were dispelled after the first class.

“Harold fits in great for all the exercises we do, which emphasize muscle endurance, balance and flexibility,” Duncan said. “The uncertainty was on me — he wasn’t uncertain he could do it.

“From Day 1, he was one of us. ... It was totally new to him, yet he came with an open mind, and because of that, it was easy to accept him and for him to become part of the group.”

Duncan said Graham shows the class what is possible for people in their 80s if they exercise, keep moving, eat right and reduce stress.

“He’s a great example to have all of us look at him and know that what we’re doing is going to pay off because we have a living example making those choices,” Duncan said.

Harold and Eileen Graham, both in their 80s, have a gym at their home in Newport Beach, but both also regularly attend group fitness classes.
(Susan Hoffman)

Graham’s wife, Eileen, also is no slouch at exercising at 84. The college sweethearts, both former teachers, have been married 61 years and each maintains a consistent schedule devoted to staying fit.

Eileen, who no longer drives due to vision problems, doesn’t let that stop her from attending her three-day-a-week cardio circuit training class that includes free weights, dance moves, balance and floor work at Body Design in Newport Beach. The five women in the class are friends, and one who lives close by drives Eileen.

Over a year ago, Eileen was sidelined for three months when she broke her hip after a fall from a core board during class.

“She’s a dynamo, she’s amazing,” said instructor Susan Tobieson. “She puts us all to shame, never complains and is consistent.”

Eileen, who also walks in her Bayshores neighborhood two days a week, credits Harold for encouraging her to keep moving.

“He’s always been my motivation,” she said.

Susan Hoffman is a contributor to Times Community News.

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