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You Do 90 Well, Jack!

A Tribute to Jack LaLanne?s Nine Decades of Life

As vividly as I recall the boy who first kissed me, I also remember the one who encouraged my personal fitness. He’d grabbed my attention through the TV screen. ‘Don’t you want to look your best? Wouldn’t you like to feel great all the time and have more energy? Well, you can! All you need to do is eat right and exercise, and you’ll feel like a million dollars!’

Like a faithful soldier, I was inducted into the world of ‘The Jack LaLanne Show.’ Five days a week, situps, jumping jacks and side bends became routine. Celery and carrots became my band of brothers. I sensed his practicality. I followed his directions. I’d stretch my right fingers to my left toes or sit on the couch to pull my knees toward my chest and extend, or hold on to a chair for balance as I’d lift a leg skyward. His commands moved me.

I’ve learned that success came the hard way for Fran’ois Henri LaLanne (pronounced ‘LahLahn’). He overcame severe obstacles: conquering Catholic family inhibitions, first-generation challenges in America and rejection by his older brother. Most important, he conquered a 15-year-long maternal ‘bribe’ to soothe his constant anxiety: sucking on a homemade pacifier, a towel soaked in cornstarch, sugar and water. He remembers his wretched childhood in Bakersfield, California, as producing a ‘sugarholic who was irritable, weak and skinny.’ With rotting teeth, he faced boy and girl bullies alike. As the runt he got picked on’so much so that he had suicidal thoughts.

Through an insightful neighbor’s intervention, the depressed, bashful kid found his savior. A nutrition teacher, Paul Bragg, promised new life to a desperate Fran’ois. ‘He told me I could get out of [my misery], and I believed him.’ Within two days Jack LaLanne was born. The teenager took control, with no more headaches, boils or negative thinking. He began training at his local YMCA gym.

‘And you wonder why I’m enthusiastic?’ he asks.

Jack attributes his turnaround to a vegetarian diet. Only during his phase as a competitive bodybuilder in the 1940s and ’50s did he experiment with meat. Perhaps as a consequence, he was a runner-up in the ’54 Mr. America. After his competition days were over, he returned to a more vegetarian eating pattern and lost 25 pounds of bulk. He consolidated his blueprint for an everyday exercise regimen and embarked on a career that would inspire people to eat pure foods and train for strength and energy.

Jack’s Message

His principles remain as valid today as when he discussed them on his first TV show, which ran from 1951 to ’84. When it ceased production, Jack, with the support of his wife, Elaine, continued to work as an advocate for people’s vitality. Through reruns (now on ESPN Classic), speaking engagements and their Web site,, the couple remain faithful to spreading his no-nonsense principles.

While this fitness guru knows that most people are undisciplined, he lives to change receptive minds. Jack understands his audience’s demons. He doesn’t care how old someone is’he just wants to ‘help that person, to tell them the truth, to motivate them to do something. I say, ‘Man alive, you’re half dead! Do something to live.’

Seventy-five years of workouts and good nutrition have produced one of the healthiest human beings who ever lived. He still conveys his message with enthusiasm: Eat foods as nature provides, work out vigorously at least four times a week and believe in your endless potential.

The following are words of wisdom from Jack.

1) You make your life happen. Be optimistic. Everything starts with your mind. Tune out negativity and believe that quality of life is your birthright. You can be anything humanly possible’it all stems from your attitude. And even though a supernatural intelligence must have designed the intricate human system, with its 80 trillion evolving cells, 640 muscles and a mind capable of creativity, no one but you is going to do chest presses or juice a daily dose of vegetables. Appreciate the mystery of life and believe that God helps those who help themselves. Take charge of your life. ALL 2) Work at living; most people work at dying. Realize the consequences of your choices. Do they lead to death, or do they lead to longevity? The body’s cells are constantly dying off and being replaced. Give it foods that are free of preservatives so new cells can thrive. Also, understand your body’s structure. If you don’t know the workings of the body, how can you do what you’re supposed to do? You’ve got to learn. The fit survive. You don’t have to be a nut about it, but you just have to start eating more unrefined foods. Don’t fall for the latest in exercise gimmicks and food fads. All you need to do is eat natural foods and exercise. That’s it.

3) Take steps toward planned, concrete goals. Turn your preferences into reality by setting attainable goals. Be persistent in changing bad habits into good ones. Simply take one step at a time. Never look back at a lapse; just begin again with renewed determination.

4) Develop pride through discipline. It’s best to start exercising young to cultivate disciplined habits. Weight-train regularly. There’s not one world-class athlete not using weights. Strength is the foundation for a productive, satisfying life. Decide which weight-bearing and aerobic exercises work best for you. That, along with balanced nutrition, builds a healthy pride that sets up a domino effect to accomplish your goals. By regularly nurturing your cells, tissues, bones and muscles, you’ll develop self-confidence, both physically and mentally.

5) Plot your lifetime exercise regimen. Exercising is more important than nutrition. Even 30 minutes four times a week is beneficial, but if you don’t do it till failure, the body doesn’t respond. It’s got to be vigorous. It’s like life. You’ve got to put something into it. Stretch and weight-lift until the muscle cannot do one more repetition, and then do other cardiovascular exercise until your muscles are fatigued. Just make it aerobic. For weightlifting never wait more than 10 or 15 seconds between sets. That’s where you develop endurance. You don’t have to do as much exercise as I do. That’s just Jack LaLanne. I want to see how long I can keep it up. I’m using myself as a guinea pig.

6) Put natural food into your live body. Eat raw vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains and nuts. Use soy powder in protein drinks, and eat fish and egg whites. Just do not exceed your personal ‘feed limit’: Be vigilant about counting calories. You might want to reward your daily discipline with wine, but drink it with food and chase it with extra B-complex. Take the best quality vitamins and herbs each morning. Then juice fresh vegetables. For those bodies needing extra cleansing, juice two to three times a day. The drinks are tasty and work wonders for appetite control. They assist in weight loss, provide energy and detoxify the system. Organic foods would be ideal, but pollution toxins find their way into all foods. The body naturally builds up some immunity, but by eating foods in their purest state, you’re better able to fight infection, disease and aging.

7) Create variety. The mind needs even more variety than the body does. For invigorating diversity, change your exercise routine and eat seasonal foods. Muscles know nothing. They’re like a chair. They’re inanimate. It’s your brain! You’ve got to keep yourself fresh and happy. If weightlifters keep doing the same thing day after day, they get so damned bored. Pretty soon their knees start to go, and their backs start to go, and they’re so sick of working out. Change your program every 30 days, whether the number of repetitions or the type of exercise.

8) If you’re using steroids, know the consequences. As long as the emphasis is on winning, you’ll never get rid of steroids. [They] existed when I was into bodybuilding’hell, I wouldn’t even take an aspirin! You won’t get the size you might want without steroids to alter the body’s chemistry, but what’s it going to do to your health? Look what’s happened to so many guys. How many live out their average life span? If that’s your choice, do it, but know you’re going to pay a price. Adverse things can happen; however, if you get all your vitamins, minerals and protein from natural foods, you can prevent some eventual problems. Large muscles don’t only come from exercise. They come from the food you eat. Working out develops your strength! Food develops the muscle. It’s all arithmetic between nutrition and weightlifting.

Jack’s 90th Birthday

Jack will be 90 years old in September. As I interviewed him at his rural home in Morro Bay, California, I could only marvel at the contrast between his age and his dynamic appearance. I wondered how such feisty answers could come from someone who has lived since 1914. His 150-pound, tight, lean body sat upright, stomach muscles taut. His eyes were still filled with passion.

Recalling his more significant birthday feats, I asked, ‘How will you demonstrate the power of being 90?’

He described a daring swim he’d envisioned and joked, ‘But Elaine said she’d divorce me! And I teased her, ‘Promise?’ In laughter, I left their estate that is filled with memory-rich photos, bodybuilding statues and a museum of Jack’s weightlifting inventions. I sensed that after 50 years of marriage, no matter how he celebrates, Elaine would kiss her husband good night on September 26, knowing she’s married an extraordinary composite of body and soul. IM

Jack’s Accomplishments

The godfather of physical fitness celebrates his 90th birthday this September. He not only opened the first modern health studio but also engineered its equipment, which moved by cables and pulleys. He parlayed his zest for fitness into the longest-running exercise show in television history, ‘The Jack LaLanne Show,’ 1953 to 1984, with reruns continuing to this day.

A 40-year-old Jack LaLanne claimed runner-up in the ’54 Pro Mr. America contest. That same year he pulled off an incomparable endurance feat. He swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco’s shore’handcuffed and shackled’and he still had time to marry the love of his life.

Instead of retiring at 65, he added yet another exploit: swimming 1 1/2 miles with cuffs and shackles, pulling 65 rowboats.

Along came 70, and Jack pulled as many kids in as many rowboats over one mile in the Long Beach Harbor’while handcuffed.

Known for his aerobic endurance as well as strength, Jack has racked up numerous records:

‘1,000 high-parallel-bar dips in 45 minutes.

‘1,000 chinups and 1,000 pushups in one hour and 17 minutes.

‘100 handstand pushups in five minutes.

‘Dumbbell bench presses starting with 55-pound dumbbells and going up the rack to the 150s for 15 reps per set.

‘He won the ’02 Peary and Mabel Rader Lifetime Achievement Award.

‘His favorite record of all is his 50-year marriage to Elaine.


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