Jumping Jacks For Jack LaLanne, the Master of Muscle,
Fitness is more than Physical -- it's a Way of Life!
Reader's Digest Feb. 2003 by Margot Dougherty
Even the experts sometimes try taking shortcuts. When Jack
LaLanne was in his 30s- this was more than 50 years ago, remember-
for a while, he drank a quart of cows blood every day.
It was a notion he borrowed from the Masai, an African people
of legendary strength and endurance. Cows blood worked
for them-maybe it would work for him too. Then one day there
was a clot in the cocktail, and he nearly choked. That was
the end of that.
Today, the 88-year-old father of fitness knows-maybe better
than anyone else-that theres no secret potion for health
and longevity. Having experimented with all kinds of regimens
over the years, he now finds himself back where he started:
exercising and eating his greens-lots of them. LaLanne consumers
ten raw vegetables and several fresh fruits daily and stays
away from sugar, white flour and dairy. Im not
a suckling calf, he says. LaLanne is out of bed at 5:30
each morning when he begins his two-hour workout.
When I started, boy, all the betting was against me,
says LaLanne, sitting in the window-lined living room of his
home in Morro Bay, a quiet California Oceanside community.
I was the first person to have 80-year-old guys working
out with weights. In the 1930s! The doctors said, You
guys go to that Jack LaLanne, you wont be able to get
an erection. You older guys will get heart attacks.
Id be six-foot-four if they hadnt beat me down.
LaLanne, five-foot-six, chuckles. With a recent guest appearance
on Arliss and a star on Hollywood Boulevard in
celebration of his birthday, LaLanne is definitely having
the last laugh.
Not that he hasnt changed with the times. Gone are the
ballet shoes and tights. In their place is a cropped
black leather jacket, navy knit pants and zebra-print sunglasses.
Fresh from an hour of weights and another hour in the pool,
hes downed 40 vitamins and supplements, about six at
a time. Now his trusty TV remote is by his side for the big
screen that almost touches the ceiling.
I watch Regiss show, LaLanne says. He
was one of my first students. I got him working out about
40 years ago. He still works out. But where Regis blew it,
he didnt go in for the nutrition thing like I do, He
had that heart problem.
Love him, hate him, laugh at him or with him, there
no arguing that LaLanne is a legend who was decades ahead
of his time. He says hes never had a major illness.
He holds Mr. America Best Chest and Best Back honors, and
a Guinness world record for his 34-year stint on the
Jack LaLanne Show. Hes written several big-selling
books on fitness, has a website (www.jacklalanne.com) selling
his philosophy I video, book and even T-shirt form, crisscrosses
the country on the lecture circuit (earning up to $12,500
an appearance) and has a new TV ad promoting early arthritis
detection. Each month he and his wife, Elaine, 76, hit Florida
to appear live on the Home Shopping Network, primarily pushing
their new power juicer. I feel so good, LaLanne
marvels. Im helping people to help themselves.
The son of French immigrants, LaLanne grew up in the San Francisco
Bay Area and was, by his account, a skinny, depressed, acne-prone
weakling addicted to sugar. I had blinding headaches
and an uncontrollable temper, he says. I tried
to kill my brother on two occasions. At age 15, LaLanne
attended a lecture by nutritionist Paul Bragg. My mom
and I came in late, and there were no seats, he says.
I was hoping we could just leave. Instead Bragg
pulled him onstage. My life changed in the next few
minutes, LaLanne remembers.
So ignited by Braggs discourse, LaLanne became a vegetarian
and cut out sugar. He bulked up, transforming himself in to
the schools most unlikely football star, and began to
spread the gospel of good living. His workout of choice was
weightlifting, at that time still a relative novelty. And talk about swimming
against the tide: He opened his first health club (a coed
gym with broadloom carpeting) in 1936- when Lucky Strikes
and martinis were still considered the essential relaxation
LaLanne never patented his original weight machines such as
the leg extension, but theyre barely distinguishable
from what crowd gyms today. On The Jack LaLanne Show,
which debuted in 1951, he employed Happy, his white German
shepherd, to encourage women to get with the program. Id
talk right to the kids, because they were the ones watching
at first, LaLanne says. Id say, Kids,
run and get your mom, and Ill get Happy to do a trick
Hollywood got hooked. Some of the big starts like Betty
Grable and Bette Davis used to have coffee klatches and exercise
with Jack LaLanne in each others homes, he says.
The papers picked this up. If the stars are with you,
everyones with you. I lucked out.
LaLanne had indeed made the big time. To prove the payoff
of his own philosophy, LaLanne has marked his birthdays with
extraordinary feats of accomplishment. At age 60, he swam
from Alcatraz to Fisherman s Wharf, handcuffed and towing
a 1000-pound boat. In the following years, he pulled off five
more variations of that stunt. Now I want to swim from
Catalina to Los Angeles underwater, he says. Its
26 miles. Id changes scuba tanks every two and a half
hours. Elaine says shell divorce me.
Elaine, who has her own line of hand and body creams as well
as several fitness books, enters the living room to see if
Jacks ready for lunch-five sliced fruits and four hard-boiled
egg whites. He pulls her down for a kiss, and she then does
a mini-arabesque, Fred-and-Ginger style. Have I to-o-o-ld
you lately that I love you? he croons. Elaine laughs. Whats that thing you say, air beneath your wings?
she asks. Shes the strength beneath by muscle, says
Jack, beaming. Married for 44 years, the couple have three
grown children-Danny, a photographer; Jon, who runs a pool
maintenance business; and Yvonne, a chiropractor.
LaLanne has made some concessions to the passage of time.
Im not as strong as I was, naturally, he
admits. When I was a Professional Mr. America, I weighed
173. Now I weigh 155. But I did that on purpose. Just like
my buddy Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. He used to weight 240 and
now hes down to nearly 200. Why do you need all that
muscle if youre not competing? I still do everything
I want to do: my chins, my dips, my workout, my swimming.
And youll notice Elaines got a smile on her face.
You slow down. But its gradual.
There are no breaks in evidence. And his passion for nutrition
remains undiminished. Hes outraged by the eating habits
of American children. Soda pop has nine and a half teaspoons
of sugar in it, and you wonder why theyre psycho and
getting failing grades, LaLanne sputters. You
know why there are so many fat kids today? Were exceeding
the feed limit! He pronounces the word fat with an emphasis
that makes it sound like bacon hitting a hot griddle.
Remember, the food you eat today is walking and talking
tomorrow, he likes to say. Or, Would ya get your
dog up in the morning and give him a cup of coffee, a cigarette
and a doughnut?
Hes open to new workout regimens, giving two thumbs-up
for TaeBo and yoga. But a certain blonde with a Thighmaster
gets only his unmasked disgust. Says Clint Eastwood: Jack
knew the value of exercise and nutrition before it became
fashionable. And LaLanne is still hellbent as ever on
getting his message out. Youve got to count calories,
he says, hitting a table with each syllable for emphasis.
Otherwise, you cannot lose weight-impossible.
Then again, You dont have to be a crackpot about
it like me, he adds. Just make little changes.
Instead of white bread, have whole wheat. Get more chicken,
fish and turkey. Add another cup of raw vegetables and a piece
of fresh fruit. Exercise 30 minutes, three or four times a
week. To date, hes his own best advertisement.
I cant die, he likes to say. It would
ruin my image.