essays

The Exercise Guy

Jack LaLanneI have plenty of fond memories of watching TV in the 50s. Most of them have to do with Gabby Hayes, Hopalong Cassidy, Kookla, Fran and Ollie, or the Mickey Mouse Club. But there was also this strange man in a jumpsuit who was urging us to exercise -- Jack LaLanne was his name, and fitness was his game. He called it “trimnastics” and if you watch his first show, it’s so “fifties” you have to marvel that he made it into such a longlasting career.

It all seemed a little nutty and Jack was such a fervent advocate that it felt a bit like walking down the midway at the carnival. Little did we know then that this guy was way ahead of his time. He was preaching diet and exercise long before anyone else and opened the first modern health club, the kind that is now ubiquitous around the world.

When he encouraged older people to lift weights, medical experts said they might break bones, but now Jack LaLanne muscle manwe know that weight exercise helps strengthen bones. He was among the first exercise gurus to recommend weight training for women as well.

Perhaps his most lasting contribution was that he gave people hope by reminding them that it was never too late to get in shape. Following his own advice to others, Jack cut out sugar and processed foods and ate only organic and natural foods. But he also reminded us that it was the combination of diet and exercise that would get results.

According to Jack, "There are so many health nuts out there who eat nothing but natural foods but they don't exercise and they look terrible. Then there are other people who exercise like a son-of-a-gun but eat a lot of junk ... Exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together and you've got a kingdom!"Jack LaLanne and dog

While stunts such as swimming from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco while towing a 1,000 boat (and handcuffed!!) on his 60th birthdayearned Jack a lot of publicity, it was also what made him seem eccentric. He claimed that all he wanted to prove is that his regimen for good health could work at any age.

When asked if he thought he'd live to be 100, he replied that "I don't care how old I live! I just want to be living while I am living! I have friends who are in their 80s, and now they're in wheelchairs or they're getting Alzheimer's. Who wants that? I want to be able to do things. I want to look good...I tell people, I can't afford to die. It would wreck my image."

Jack’s gone but his advice lives on.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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