Jack LaLanne was still going strong into his 90s.

 If only I had listened to Jack LaLanne when I was younger.  I would not be blogging about my weight loss struggles today.

When it comes to health and fitness, Jack LaLanne essentially told us everything we needed to know, more than 70 years ago.   Eat a healthy diet.  Eat in moderation.  Exercise every day.  And, perhaps most importantly, think positive.

LaLanne died Jan. 23 at the reverential age of 96, following a bout of pneumonia.  Reportedly he was still going strong — working out two hours a day — until he took sick.

The New York Times proclaimed LaLanne the “founder of the modern fitness movement.”   Before Jane Fonda, before Richard Simmons, before the Atkins diet and step aerobics and hot yoga, there was Jack LaLanne, a loud, enthusiastic, persistent — and yes, self-promoting —  voice in the wilderness preaching the Gospel of Fitness.  He spread that message every which way he could:  through books, on TV, in videos and, later, on his website.

LaLanne turned out out to be way ahead of his time.  “People thought I was a charlatan and a nut,” he says on his website.  He continued:

The doctors were against me – they said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive. Women would look like men and even varsity coaches predicted that their athletes would get muscle bound and banned them from lifting weights. I had to give these athletes keys so they could come in at night and work out in my gym. Time has proven that what I was doing was scientifically correct; starting with a healthy diet followed by systematic exercise and today everyone knows it. All world-class athletes now work out with weights, as do many members of the general public, both male and female.

Jack LaLanne does his famous “fingertip push-ups.”

He had a way with words.   Among the “LaLanneisms” you can find on his site:

  • Your waistline is your lifeline.
  • The food you eat today is walking and talking tomorrow.
  • People don’t die of old age, they die of inactivity.
  • You eat every day, you sleep every day and your body was made to exercise every day.
  • If man makes it, don’t eat it.  [LaLanne’s mantra against processed foods.]
  • Your health account is like your bank account:  The more you put in, the more you can take out.

I loved watching his TV show when I was a kid, although, sadly, I don’t recall doing any of his exercises with him.  He was so chipper and cheerful — and so cute, in his little short-sleeve jumpsuit with his bulging biceps and his ballet slippers.  He just seemed like a nice, fun guy — a little hokey maybe, but so likeable.  He didn’t use fancy gimmicks or gizmos, usually just simple props like a chair or a broom.  But he was always moving, always talking rapid-fire — and always entertaining.  (Here’s a link to some of his real early shows.  Love the organ music!)

I had no idea until he died just how much he did.   The gym I go to most days a week descends from the dozens of fitness studios LaLanne opened, initially in California, where he grew up, and which he later licensed to Bally.  Remarkably, for the times, he invited women to join!  

And juice bars?  Jack LaLanne, baby.

He invented exercise equipment, too, including the first leg extension pulleys, pulley machines using cables and weight selectors — stuff that is standard equipment in modern-day gyms.  He even marketed his own juicer for blending raw vegetables and fruits.

Born Francois Henri LaLanne and later nicknamed “Jack” by his older brother, LaLanne decribed himself as an adolescent  “junk food junkie” and a weakling (“little girls used to beat me up”).  All that changed when, at age 15,  he attended a lecture by pioneering nutritionist Paul Bragg and caught the fitness fever.  He was motivated to study Gray’s Anatomy and, according to his website,  “concentrated on bodybuilding, chiropractic medicine and weightlifting, something virtually unheard of in the 1930s.”

He opened his first fitness studio in Oakland, CA, in 1936.

He was pretty proud of himself.  From his website:

LaLanne gained worldwide recognition for his success as a chiropractor and bodybuilder, and for his incredible and prodigious acts of strength and endurance. Through his career, LaLanne has won numerous awards including the Horatio Alger Award from the Association of Distinguished Americans, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Hall of Fame.

But, honestly, can you blame him?  LaLanne didn’t just pioneer the fitness movement; he planted the concept of fitness in our social consciousness. His message to us was good and simple and true.  He told us that our health is our most important asset.  He exhorted us, tirelessly, to take care of that asset, and provided us with a model for how to do it. 

“I can’t die; it would ruin my image,”  LaLanne is said to have quipped quite frequently.

Don’t worry, Jack.  Your image burns bright!