April 27, 2009 / 10:06 AM / 10 years ago

Fitness lion Jack LaLanne still roaring in winter

NEW YORK (Reuters) - At 94, fitness pioneer and TV icon Jack LaLanne is not concerned about resting on his laurels, easing into old age, or contemplating his star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Jack LaLanne working out at ranch in Moro Bay, CA, 2004. REUTERS/BeFit Enterprises/Handout

What is upper most in his mind, and has always been, is getting people fit.

“Life’s a pain in the butt. You’ve got to be in shape for it,” LaLanne said in an interview, urging the same message he’s been hammering home for over half a century.

“And the hell with the good old days. The most important thing is now,” he declared after a weightlifting session at his California ranch. “What are you this moment? You set an example.”

The so-called “Godfather of Fitness,” has been setting that example for a very long time.

His groundbreaking TV show introduced the concept of fitness programing. Today’s workout offerings like “Biggest Loser” and FitTV began with his vision.

But The Jack LaLanne Show, which aired from 1951 to 1985, transformed the fitness industry even as it blazed a trail through the infant medium of television.

“Yeah, everybody though I was a nut,” he said, recalling his early critics. “In those days weightlifting was only for strong men.”

LaLanne’s TV audience was mainly housewives. And as his short-sleeved jumpsuit showed off his well-muscled arms, the likeable bodybuilder chatted, charmed and cajoled his public into working out with him.

Decades before Jane Fonda discovered spandex, LaLanne encouraged women to lift weights, even though the practice was widely frowned upon as “unfeminine” in the demure 1950’s.

By the 1980’s there were more than 200 Jack LaLanne health clubs in the United States. They were eventually sold to the company that became Bally Total Fitness. Through the years LaLanne also developed exercise equipment, starred in videos and written books.

And he’s still at it — both the bodybuilding and the mission.

“I work out every day for two hours,” he said. “Swim one-half hour, and other one and one-half hours I do weights.”

His routine changes every 30 days because, he says, “I get bored doing the same thing.”

He plays online mind games every day to keep his brain sharp.

“I motivate with lectures and personal appearances,” said LaLanne, who is often accompanied on engagements by Elaine, his wife of 50-plus years. “They help people get off their big fat butts.”

These days what seems to trouble him most is the sorry state of the 21st century body.

“It’s pretty sick,” he barked. “More people are working out, but still more people are out of shape. With what we know about nutrition and exercise now, everybody should be in good shape.

“All those cakes and pies and cookies, they don’t listen,” laments LaLanne, who gave up refined sugar decades ago.

“If it tastes good, spit it out.”

Slideshow (4 Images)

Clips of the old Jack LaLanne Show stream on his website, and the current LaLanne markets his Power Juicer on TV infomercials. His new book, appropriately titled “Live Young Forever,” will appear in the fall.

“I’m so lucky,” he said, summing up his long life, his good health, his enduring marriage, and his three-and-one-half acre ranch in Morro Bay, California.

“Exercise is king, nutrition is queen. Put them together and you’ve got a kingdom,” he said.

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