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Jack LaLanne – 1914-2011

February 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog

I am sure that you saw the news about the recent death of Jack LaLanne, the Godfather of Fitness.  He died on January 23, 2011, of respiratory failure due to pneumonia at the age of 96.  When I heard the announcement, I was shocked.  I would have put money on the idea of Jack living to be 110.  In an interview on the Today Show, he said that he couldn’t die as it would be bad for his image.  However, if we can learn anything from his life, we can see that his life was about how the choices we make can affect our health.  And I think he would be OK if we drew that conclusion as well. 

Jack started off life as a self described “junk food junkie” and “sugarholic” whose life was turned around at age 15, after attending a nutrition conference.  He went on to study nutrition and weight training, and earned a Doctor of Chiropractic degree.  In 1936, at 21 years old, he opened up the nation’s first gym in Oakland California.  (In seeing the news reports of his death, I was amazed to learn that this gym was highly controversial, as medical professionals at the time thought that weight training could increase the risk of heart attacks and decrease the sex drive among other things.  Weight training was thought to make athletes slow, and it was thought that working with weights would make women more masculine looking.  It just goes to show how ahead of the curve Jack was).  He invented many of the machines that are standard equipment today, including the cable and pulley weights, and leg extension machines.  This gym grew and became the Jack LaLanne’s European Health Spas chain, which was eventually sold to Bally’s Gyms in the 1980’s.  Obviously these gyms were the prototypes of the gyms we use today. 

The Jack LaLanne Show began in San Francisco in 1951, and was broadcast nationally on ABC from 1959-1985, becoming the longest running exercise program on television.  He focused much of the training towards women, and showed them many exercises and stretches using items that they had in their homes.  (I remember when I was much younger seeing some of these shows and thinking they were a bit goofy at the time.  Now I wish that I would have paid more attention).  His goal was to get Americans off of the couch and moving, and it can be said that this program was the forerunner of future exercise videos.  From there he went on to publish many books and videos, produce nutritional products, and in recent years became known more for his Juicer, showing the benefits of juicing as part of a proper nutrition program. 

His exercise routine consisted of a two hour workout every morning, where he worked out each of his muscles to failure.  Ninety minutes were spent doing strength training, followed by 30 minutes of swimming.  He also advocated a mostly meatless diet with vitamin supplementation and was religious about avoiding between meal snacking.  The following quote pretty much sums everything up:  “Look at the average American diet: ice cream, butter, cheese, whole milk, all this fat,” he said. “People don’t realize how much of this stuff you get by the end of the day. High blood pressure is from all this high-fat eating. Do you know how many calories are in butter and cheese and ice cream? Would you get your dog up in the morning for a cup of coffee and a donut? Probably millions of Americans got up this morning with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a donut. No wonder they are sick and fouled up.”   (

Jack was also a public celebrity who performed many feats of physical fitness.  A timeline of these feats can be found in the Wikipedia entry about him. 

I wanted to pay tribute to Jack LaLanne and his passing for several reasons.  First off, as someone who discovered the benefits of working out and eating right at a young age, I feel that I owe him a debt of gratitude and thanks for providing an example to follow.  Second, for any of us who have used or are using equipment in the modern gyms, we have him to thank for inventing much of it.  Finally, I have used Jack and his life in many of the classes and seminars that I give as an example of how to properly live our lives.  Our lives are about the choices we make, and as I tell my students, how we live at 60 is dictated by what we do at 30.   However, it is never too late to make a change to live healthy.  Since genetically, it is possible for us to all live to 120 years old, we can eat right and exercise to try to reach that milestone (barring disease, family history and accidents of course), or not.  I use the example of a certain rock and roll guitarist from one of the British Invasion bands of the 1960’s who are still playing today.  He has abused his body with all kinds of chemical pollutants, and while he is 30 years younger than Jack, currently looks like the Crypt Keeper.  I don’t want to name names, but a quick Google search should provide the information. 

I know myself when my times comes, the Grim Reaper is going to take me away kicking and screaming, and hopefully, I will have Jack to thank for this time coming later rather than sooner. 

So rest in peace Jack.  Thank you for everything that you did for us.  May it be a long time before any of us see you again.  I think Jack himself would agree with that last statement for all of us. 

To Your Good Health! 

Dr. Harvey

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One Response to “Jack LaLanne – 1914-2011”
  1. Carey says:

    Dr. Harvey,
    I love this post! I haven’t read a whole lot on Jack LaLanne, but have recently discovered the wonders of juicing, eating a more healthy diet and getting regular exercise. He certainly was ahead of his time!

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