As a colleague of Jack LaLanne's and a lifelong admirer of his captivating high energy, powerful motivational personality, fitness inventions, and fitness-education works, I'd like to reflect upon the scope and depth of his contributions to fitness science and culture. Jack was a trailblazer, a founding father of fitness, with many well-known "firsts" that we take for granted.
Imagine a fitness world without any of these innovations. Because he pioneered all of them:
- Opening the first modern health spa
- Presenting a nationally syndicated exercise show on television
- Encouraging athletes, women, and the elderly work out with weights
- Combining a gym with a health-food bar
- Offering a weight-loss "Instant Breakfast" meal replacement drink
- Having a coed health club
- Combining weight training with nutrition in a systematic way
- Offering the first nutrition snack bar
- Selling vitamins and exercise equipment on television
- Teaching scientific bodybuilding by changing the program every two to three weeks
- Encouraging the physically challenged to exercise
- Performing feats of strength and endurance to highlight the results of fit living
- Developing the first leg extension machine, weight selector machine, cable/pulley machine, calf machine, and wrist roll machine, all now standards in the fitness industry.
His incredible feats of fitness are legendary. At 45, he completed 1,000 pushups and chin-ups in an hour and 22 minutes. At 70-an age when most men are shuffling around retirement homes-Jack, handcuffed and shackled, fought strong winds and currents to tow 70 boats holding 70 passengers 1 1/2 miles from Queen's Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary.
Remarkably, Jack's feats of physical fitness are surpassed by his genius for fitness science. He was many decades ahead of his time. The day I wrote this tribute, I read about the results of a major study conducted by the University of Oxford, which found that eating more servings of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease.
Eating a whole-food diet, with plenty of vegetables and fruits, was the foundation of Jack's nutrition approach, which he started writing about and teaching people 70 years ago.
Here are some examples of the fitness-science insights that were the basis for creating Jack's user friendly LaLanneisms, which he used to drive home his health-enhancing lessons:
"If Man Makes It, Don't Eat It"
Jack's nutrition philosophy isn't just about what not to eat, but also what to eat to make you healthier and to prevent diseases. Today, we know this; back in the early 1900s, this was revolutionary concept.
Jack lived through a phase in history that saw nature's bounty of nutritious whole foods replaced en masse by highly processed, chemical-laden foods. His own experience of turning around his health by avoiding over-processed foods, stripped of their vital nutrients, in favor of eating a diet rich in healthy nutrient packed whole foods, is testimony to the fitness benefits of eating the right foods.
For example, eating more fruits and vegetables is a signature feature of Jack's nutrition approach. Higher consumption of these foods has been tied to a reduction in many diseases, including obesity, certain cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Jack also realized the awesome health benefits of eating fish, including easy-to-digest, high-quality protein, reduced inflammation, good cardiovascular health, and brain wellness. Also, a recent study reported a new benefit of omega-3 fatty acids: increased muscle protein synthesis among older adults.
One of Jack's exceptions to his no-processed-foods rule concerns foods intentionally designed to be healthy. That means nutritious meal-replacement products, nutrition bars, and, yes, even dietary supplements, which Jack was a pioneer in developing and selling starting back in the 1950s. Note that the USDA's Health Index 2005 reports that for all age groups, there is inadequate intake in nutrient rich fruits and vegetables.
This leads to low vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient intake. These inadequacies have been a consistent reality for decades, so while Jack recommended eating more fruits and vegetables, and healthier foods, he also realized that people needed to supplement their diet with specially designed health foods.
During one of our discussions, I mentioned to Jack that I saw him on a talk show during the 1970s, when I was learning about the science of exercise and nutrition. During the interview, he started talking of the numerous health benefits of fruits and vegetables-not just the obvious, the vitamins and minerals, but new things like trace minerals and other beneficial substances in plants.
The discoveries were only just in their very early stages of discovery at the leading universities and National Institutes of Health back then. But, Jack already knew what they would "discover."
After I told him about this, he smiled for a moment, and then proceeded to give me a personal seminar about a series of advanced nutrition insights he discovered from his decades of work. This was beyond anything I ever learned about from science books or journals or lectures. Forget about going to moon or other planets-what Jack was teaching me about his scientific discoveries was more meaningful to mankind than most discoveries made in history.
"If You Don't Use It, You Lose It"
Jack would follow this line with a story about imagining what happens if your arm is in a sling for a long period of time. Your arm muscles shrink, they get weak, eventually your bones will get weak, and your nervous system stops working in those muscles. Circulation becomes impaired, and you end up with an unhealthy, shriveled-up arm.
Now, the reality is that for people who do not exercise "correctly" on a regular basis, which includes resistance exercise, this is what starts to happen to your entire body.
Jack's approach to exercise was the most comprehensive I have ever learned about. He actually studied the anatomy of the entire body, and created a comprehensive system of exercise that both exercised and stretched every muscle and joint in the body, including the most overlooked tiny muscle around joints and even the spine.
The benefits of Jack's comprehensive approach to exercise are for all people of all ages. While Jack was one of the first people to recognize the health and performing benefits of resistance training starting in the 1930s, the most recent scientific studies reconfirm what he discovered.
| Fit To Print
Here are some of Jack's publications, some of which he coauthored with his fitness wife of over 50 years, Elaine. His most recent book-Live Young Forever: 12 Steps to Optimum Health, Fitness and Longevity-is a must read for everybody. This book should become standard reading in all schools.
During one of our conversations, I had the opportunity to learn about his unique wall-mounted exercise equipment that Jack invented, to exercise and stretch every muscle in the body. It was during this discussion that it became apparent to me that Jack's approach, while very effective for body building and shaping, was much deeper then the superficial benefits of most exercise programs.
Jack's approach was designed to exercise the entire body and all its systems: muscles, joints, circulatory, and nervous system for example. Basically, Jack's approach is also about strategic health building, and has a therapeutic exercise component built-in that is effective for building an impressive physique or figure, or for increasing athletic performance.
But it's health promoting and disease preventing, too, by minimizing inflammation, promoting growth and revitalizing substances in the body, etc. Still today, Jack's exercise machine and companion exercise routine is the most comprehensive, well constructed, and multi-beneficial approach I know of.
|JACK LALANNE: TESTIMONIALS
"Your Waistline Is Your Lifeline"
This is a result of following Jack's exercise and nutrition program, and is a vital "measure of health." While the medical community only recently adopted the waistline measurement as a health measure, Jack recognized the relationship between the waistline and disease decades ago.
He told me of his observations that when the waistline is smaller, diseases are reduced. Conversely as the waistline expands, diseases increase. As you can see in Jack's photos through his life, he indeed maintained a slim waistline, which was also in perfect condition.
I remember one occasion when we were eating at a restaurant, and some fans stopped by to say hello to Jack. During the conversation with his fans about the importance of eating healthy, like he was doing with the foods he ordered, and how about how regular exercise will keep you young, Jack firmly grabbed the arms of the chair, pressed himself up into one of those gymnast positions with his legs held parallel to the ground, not missing a beat in what he was saying during his fitness demonstration, he then started doing reps, raising his legs up in a V and back to the parallel position over and over again, while holding his body up in the chair.
An impressive feat of fitness for any young man, but Jack was in his 80's!