Jack LaLanne was labeled as the “godfather of fitness.” He built a career as a motivational speaker. He taught millions of people the benefits of good nutrition, physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle, earning him another title: the first fitness superhero.
He realized the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in his teenage years.
Transforming himself from a junk food junkie to a fitness guru, he became a certified chiropractor and started his mission teaching the world how to live a healthier and longer life.
1n 1936 at the age of 21, LaLanne opened one of the first coed gyms in the country. At that time, most private gyms were for prospective world-class boxers. The YMCA, universities and competitive sports programs also provided exercise and training programs, but mostly for men.
In the 1950s, LaLanne, using the medium of television, was the first to encourage all women to lift weights and work out like men, claiming that with good nutrition and strenuous exercise they would have a healthier life and outlive their husbands. Women usually were discouraged from lifting any kind of weights because men told them they would become too masculine.
He also was an inventor. He built innovative gym equipment that’s found in most fitness centers today, and we’ve all seen his food concentrators and juicers advertised on television for the last 50 years.
Although LaLanne was basically a vegetarian, he did eat fish. He said most common health problems are because of drinking coffee and the consumption of processed foods, fat, milk products and barnyard animals. He had his own nutritional guide: “If man made it, don’t eat it.” However, in his early 20s, he started making and selling man-made bread and vitamin supplements for a profit.
Alluding to our daily diet, he said, “No wonder Americans are sick. The first thing they do in the morning is have a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a donut. Would you get your dog up in the morning for a cup of coffee and a donut?”
Although I’m a vegetarian, don’t smoke or drink too much coffee, I don’t know if I can give up that old-fashion maple donut in the morning.
But he didn’t have the same distaste for red wine. On an Internet blog he wrote there’s nothing wrong with a glass of red wine. It’s better for you than soft drinks that are mostly sugar.
LaLanne claims he only had two meals a day. Breakfast consisted of hard-boiled egg whites, oatmeal with soy milk, seasonal fruit and a cup of vegetable broth. And for dinner he had raw vegetables, egg whites, pita bread and fish. No mention of red wine.
To promote the value of fitness, he organized stunts of strength and endurance. He swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf while handcuffed at the age of 40 and set a world record of 1,033 push-ups within 23 minutes at the age of 42. When he was 70, shackled, handcuffed and battling winds and currents, he towed 70 rowboats, some carrying passengers, from the Queen’s Way bridge in Long Beach harbor to the Queen Mary, a distance of one mile.
“Living is a pain in the butt. Dying is easy,” LaLanne said. “You’ve got to train for it.” Comparing life to a kingdom, LaLanne said, “Exercise was the king and nutrition was the queen.”
LaLanne shared his kingdom with millions of people, mostly women. He encouraged my mother and many of our neighborhood women to exercise together, change our diets and think healthy. It must have worked. He reached the age of 96 and mom made it to 94.
He said he could never die because it would hurt his image. Maybe so. But I will always remember the image of my mom and her friends glued to the television screen waiting to workout with LaLanne. Now for that donut and cup of coffee.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.