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Jumpin’ Jack

Ninety-Three and Still Pumping

To consider Jack LaLanne’s longevity as a fitness guru, you have to go back to 1936.

While most Americans were watching President Franklin Delano Roosevelt push the New Deal legislation through Congress, LaLanne was in Oakland, Calif., opening his first gym.

Decades before fitness grew into a multibillion-dollar industry, there was LaLanne, a pied piper of living healthy. I can still envision him in his trademark jumpsuit in the early days of television doing sit-ups, leg lifts and push-ups — in black and white!

Still today, LaLanne evangelizes about the power of fitness to transform lives. In September, I caught up with the nonagenarian at his home In Morro Bay, Calif., shortly before he was to celebrate 93 years of, yes, LIVING!

—Paul Costello

Paul Costello: Do you feel like the godfather of the revolution in fitness?

Jack LaLanne: Better than the godmother [laughs]. Well, I was the first one to have a modern gym. Had women working out with the weights. Had 90-year-old people working out with the weights. And had athletes working out with the weights.

You opened your first health club in 1936. What did your friends think?

They thought it was nuts. And because of the way I ate and exercised, these guys thought I was nuts.

How did you get a gym started when no one was concerned about physical fitness?

It was tough, I’ll tell you. I would go to the high schools. I’d pick out the fattest guy I could find, I’d pick out the skinniest kid I could find, and at night I’d go solicit their folks. And if I’d go to 10 homes, I’d sign up 10 out of 10. If you had a big fat kid and I said, “I’ll take 40 pounds of fat off that guy in three months,” you’d sure sign him up, wouldn’t you?

You’d think so.

Then after about a year of this I started getting calls from the adults. They’d say, “You know, Jack, my son is doing such a good job now, and you know, I’m getting a little fat. Could you take me at five in the morning? But don’t tell anybody I’m coming.” That’s the fathers.

And this went on for about a year. And then I started getting calls from the wives. You know, “My husband got that old romantic nip back, and he’s getting in shape, and I’m getting a little fat, and can you take me at three in the afternoon, Jack? But don’t tell anybody I’m coming.”

Why were they embarrassed to be there?

Because it was unheard of then. Women lifting weights? And men lifting weights? Are you kidding? People believed if you worked out with the weights you’d get muscle-bound, old people would die of heart attacks and women would look like men.

Did you ever think you’d live to celebrate your 93rd birthday?

I never think how long I’m gonna live. I think about helping people, I think about living, I work at living. Most people work at dying. Why do you think I work out two hours every day, seven days a week? Why do you think I eat the way I eat? I’m working at living.

Do you ever walk up to people who you see who are heavy, obese, fat?

Nope, they come to me.

What do they say to you?

Everybody’s different, you know? They say, “Jack, I know I’ve let myself go.” I give them a big pep talk about what they should do, how to change their eating habits. My whole thing is helping people. I’ve got one thing in my mind: How can I help that fat person? How can I help that young kid? That old person? Billy Graham’s for the hereafter. I’m for the here now.

You must be pretty disappointed in public school physical education programs these days.

Duncan Stewart

It’s making me sick. You know Arnold Schwarzenegger and I are very close. I’ve known him since he was 21 years old. And Arnold, he’s taken all the junk food out of the schools. That’s going to set a good example to the rest of the states in the country.

The spirit that you live by isn’t really one that most Americans live by.

Sixty percent of Americans are overweight. Think about that. And there are more gyms for them than there’ve ever been, but there are more fat people than have ever been.

Why do you think that is?

Junk food, junk food, junk food.

Some say it’s predetermined by genetics.

That’s a bunch of bull.

When you get out to schools and talk to kids, what do they ask you?

They all ask, “Can I get that way too? Can I?” I say, “Of course.” They all say, “I’m fat because my dad’s fat.” And then I give them a little lecture, telling them why they’re fat and about the value of exercise.

Is your wife as active as you are in this?

Yes. Yes. Yes. I can’t afford to have a fat wife. She works out every day. I work out two hours. You know, working out two hours, that’s ridiculous. It’s an ego thing. I just want to see how long I can keep this up. Elaine works out at least half an hour three or four times a week. And she watches her diet just like I do. We both eat correctly. Natural foods in their natural state.

I’ve seen you quoted as saying, “If it tastes good, spit it out.” Don’t you ever indulge?

Never. Never. I’ve got a conscience like you can’t believe. My wife, she says, “Jack, just miss your workout. You only got two hours of sleep last night.” She says, “Nobody knows about it.” But I do.

Well thanks a lot, Jack, I really appreciate your spending some time with us.

Anything else you need, give us a jingle.

Interview condensed and edited by Rosanne Spector

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Q&A with Jack

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