Date: May 1st, 2008
Say “Jack LaLanne” and most Americans over 30 will remember a dark-haired fellow, in a blue jumpsuit and impressively-muscled arms, on TV. He was performing leg lifts, or one-arm push-ups on his fingertips, and urging you to do the same. Broadcast from 1951 to 1985, The Jack LaLanne Show was the first exercise program on television.
hanks to video sites like YouTube, clips of Jack’s original shows are now available on the Internet. And so are clips of him on TV talk shows in 2007. At age 93, energy undiminished, Jack is still preaching the importance of exercise and nutrition, using his own ebullient self as proof his advice works. He and his wife Elaine (herself an author of fitness books) still maintain a hectic schedule of lectures and appearances, and when not on the road, enjoy their home in coastal California.
Jack’s been called the godfather of fitness, as well as the “greatest gym teacher of all time.”[i] But the “prophet of fitness” also suits him, since the gospel of health he preached more than 75 years ago has become common knowledge today. Now doctors and other experts all recommend systematic exercise and proper diet as keys to a healthier life.
“Living is an athletic event,” says Jack. “You’ve got to exercise, you’ve got to eat right, you’ve got to have goals and challenges, and never be satisfied. In my whole life I’ve never been satisfied; I’ve always wanted to be better.”
It’s hard to remember a time before “working out” was considered part of a well-lived life. But when Jack opened the first health club in 1936, in Oakland, California, he says, “they thought I was nuts.” With the help of a blacksmith, he built the first leg-extension and other adjustable-weight machines, now staples of fitness clubs. He was the first to have women and seniors lifting weights, and to make a health club co-ed.
Jack was also ahead of his time in his early insistence on the importance of good nutrition as well as exercise. Growing up in San Francisco, he says he was “addicted to sugar” as a youth, prone to rages and headaches. At age 15, he heard a talk about health and nutrition by Paul Bragg which was a life-changing moment: from that day on, Jack focused on his exercise and diet.
“If man made it, don’t eat it,” is Jack’s mantra. He says he eats ten vegetables every day, plenty of fruit, and whole grains. He gets his protein from hard-boiled egg whites and fish. He’ll occasionally snack on a turkey sandwich with whole wheat and avocado. He stays away from fats and sugar, but a glass of red wine is OK—“I’m a Frenchman, after all,” says this son of French immigrants.
His advice to seniors? “You’ve got to exercise. You’ve got to put the time aside. If you can’t afford 20-25 minutes three-four times a week, to take care of your most precious possession, you’ve got to be sick!”
In earlier years, Jack set himself a series of spectacular challenges, from swimming the length of the Golden Gate Bridge underwater with 140 pounds of equipment, to swimming handcuffed and shackled 1.5 miles while towing 70 boats with 70 people, when he was 70. He set the world record of 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes on the television program You Asked for It.
The show-stopper feats have now ceased (Jack jokes that Elaine will divorce him if he tries again), but he still maintains a rigorous exercise regime. He works out two hours every morning: 90 minutes with weights, and a half-hour in the lap pool. “I’m interested in how long I can keep this up,” he said.
Jack believes people can live to at least 120 years of age, and eventually will live to 150. “More people are reaching 100 now than ever in our history,” he said. “Most people who live to over 100 are very conscious about how they look and what they eat. They keep moving and keep active.” He added, “I don’t care how long I live, I want to live while I’m living. I want to be able to do my workout, my lectures, all the things I have to do.”
Jack is a believer in the magic of exercise and a healthy diet, and his sheer enthusiasm and zeal for living will make a believer out of you, too. When he gives a talk, he typically ends by saying, “Anything in life is possible, if you make it happen. Living is work, dying is easy.” He then sings “I Believe.” It’s a bravura performance, always, from the prophet of fitness.
You can find out more about Jack at: