'Thinking young' the secret

Great-grandmother Jean Charlesworth has been pumping iron at the gym for 25 years.

And, just a few weeks shy of her 90th birthday, she reckons she's never felt better.

"'Think young' all the time, I think that's the secret," she says with a smile.

Jean has been a familiar face at Kensington Fitness Centre in Whangarei for quarter of a century, as a keen participant in the KiwiSenior fitness classes.


Standing at the front of the class, she moves through the warm-up exercises under the expert eye of instructor Christine Fraser-Kitchen, who is 55, a grandmother and has been taking the KiwiSenior classes for 20 years. When Christine is not at the gym, she is a dental therapist with the Northland District Health Board.

Once the class of 25 older fitness enthusiasts have warmed up, it's into the circuit room for exercises, including weights, skipping, rowing and biking. Plus plenty of exercises aimed at improving balance, flexibility and strength.

Jean's pink running shoes are firmly planted on a wobble board as she swings green hand weights from side to side, strengthening her core.

Balance is not an issue for this agile nearly nonagenarian.

"A friend encouraged me to come along and try, and I loved it. It's absolutely fabulous and it makes you feel better and about two inches taller when you've finished.

"And we have a laugh and you know you've got to laugh."

She also plays badminton and has been a member of the Hikurangi Golf Club for 48 years.

Others in the class are inspired by Jean's exercise efforts.

The "baby" of the group at 53, soon to be 54, Dianne Ruddell reckons Jean has a go at everything and goes for it.

"She's truly inspirational."

Mrs Ruddell said the classes were excellent and everyone could work at their own level.

"You think, 'Oh I can't do that.' But you have to keep coming back and you see the improvements."

Peter Geange, who has been coming to the classes for 15 years, said he was working on his flexibility and balance.

He had nothing but praise for instructor Christine. "Absolutely fantastic, she is," he said.

Christine said it was the social aspect of the class that was rewarding for those who participated as well as the physical benefits.

"It's almost like a family," she adds.

The camaraderie is obvious.

After the fitness class they move upstairs to the cafe to have coffee and share a birthday cake for Nancy Hodgson and Marlene Whittingham, who have celebrated their 80th birthdays within days of each other.

Jean said her family wanted to make a big fuss of her birthday on August 14, but she said a night out together would suit her fine.

When asked if Jean felt old her immediate response was: "No, not at all."

And her parting thought?

"You don't know what you can do until you do it. I never thought I would be doing exercise like I am but I had a go and loved it."