In Memory of Jack LaLanne, the Original Health Role Model for Many Americans

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Before Jane Fonda, Kathy Smith, Bob Greene, Richard Simmons, Chuck Norris, and the You doctors (Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen), there was Jack LaLanne.  First coming into American homes on those black and white televisions in 1951, LaLanne continued to serve as our guide to good health as he aged.

    I first remember seeing Jack LaLanne’s show in the 1960s, when it would regularly pop up after some of my favorite kid’s shows. LaLanne, who exuded fitness in his short-sleeve jumpsuit, would encourage us to join with him as he performed jumping jacks, push-ups and other exercises. Turns out I’m not alone. Here are some Facebook reactions from some of my contemporaries on LaLanne’s passing:

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    • “RIP Jack LaLanne. I remember watching your show weekday mornings on the crappy channel 9 many, many moons ago.”
    • “I remember watching him when we were in elementary school.”
    • “The original fitness guru Jack LaLanne has died at age 96. Impressive to the end.”
    • “I'll never forget him, what a guy!”
    • “What an inspiration...”
    • “I remember Mom working out with him! He was definitely an inspiration to everyone!”

    And his healthy message and entrepreneurial efforts made him an inspiration to younger generations. A 20-something friend posted on Facebook, “RIP Jack LaLanne, way to show people the power of healthy living! (and I ♥ your juicer).”

    It turns out he always was way ahead of his time. LaLanne embraced a healthy diet when he was 15, according to New York Times reporter Richard Goldstein. “He started working out with weights when they were an oddity, and in 1936 he opened the prototype for the fitness spas to come — a gym, juice bar and health food store — in an old office building in Oakland,” Goldstein wrote.
    LaLanne took a simple, but effective approach to his television program. “His workout show was a television staple from the 1950s to the '70s. LaLanne and his dog Happy encouraged kids to wake their mothers and drag them in front of the television set. He developed exercises that used no special equipment, just a chair and a towel,” a CBS News story noted.

    Those were just the beginning of his entrepreneurial ideas. “Expanding on his television popularity, he opened dozens of fitness studios under his name, later licensing them to Bally,” Goldstein wrote. “He invented the forerunners of modern exercise machines like leg-extension and pulley devices. He marketed a Power Juicer to blend raw vegetables and fruits and a Glamour Stretcher cord, and he sold exercise videos and fitness books. He invited women to join his health clubs and told the elderly and the disabled that they could exercise despite their limitations.”

    LaLanne definitely served as a model for aging well. “"The only way you can hurt the body is not use it," LaLanne said, according to CBS. Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it's never too late." At the age of 60, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf while handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat. He repeated the feat when he was 70, towing 70 boats that were carrying a total of 70 people for 1-1/2 miles through Long Beach Harbor. LaLanne worked out two hours every day, seven days a week well into his 90s. At the age of 95, he announced that he was going to serve as a brain fitness motivational coach for a touchscreen computer program to help seniors build up their brain power.  “You’ve got to use what the good Lord gives you,” he said.

  • His enthusiasm and example worked to inspire people when he started on television and it still does today. So let’s end with another story taken from Facebook. The author noted that she recently had a 96-year-old patient who said that up until a couple of years ago, she would do exercises with LaLanne on television daily. The patient’s goal in physical therapy was to be able to get down on her hands and knees to wash her floor, because a mop just didn't get it clean.  The author added that she hoped she was exercising with Jack LaLanne when she was 90!

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Published On: January 24, 2011