Timeless lessons on living a healthy life

Jack LaLanne had what seemed like a simple mission in life — to help people help themselves through feeling better and living longer. In his own life, before passing away recently at age 96, he tried to live by example through “completing implausible feats of strength and endurance,” as James Fell of the Los Angeles Times put it. Even more improbably, Jack did many of these things at the age of 40 and beyond. To name a few:

  • 1955, 40 years old: Swam the length of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge underwater with 140 pounds of equipment.
  • 1956, 42 years old: Set a world record of 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes on the TV show “You Asked for It.”
  • 1959, 45 years old: Completed 1,000 push-ups and 1,000 chin-ups in 1 hour and 22 minutes.
  • 1975, 61 years old: Swam the length of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge underwater, for a second time, this time handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat.
  • 1984, 70 years old: Towed 70 boats with 70 people from the Queen’s Way Bridge in Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, a 1½ mile distance, while handcuffed, shackled, and fighting strong winds and currents.

Even more impressive is his list of firsts: He opened the first modern health spa. He was the first fitness trainer to have athletes, and women, working out with weights. The first to combine weight training with nutrition. The first to encourage the physically challenged to exercise. The list goes on and on.

Because Jack was first in the public eye in the 1950s, many people today question what they can learn from him. Many of his LaLanneisms, however, are even more important to follow today, with obesity at an all-time high and the need for fitness and good nutrition vital to our health. Here are just a few to keep in mind:

Woman sitting at a dining room table with examples of healthy and not-so-healthy foods. An angel is trying to get her to eat the healthy food, and a devil is trying to get her to eat the unhealthy foods.

“Exercise is King, nutrition is Queen; put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.” Doctors, nutritionists and fitness trainers agree that it takes changing both eating and exercise habits to live a healthy life. If you exercise a lot but don’t eat healthily, your body isn’t getting the energy it needs for the exercise. And if you eat well but don’t exercise much, your heart isn’t getting the workouts it needs to stay strong.

Overweight man without shirt using a tape measure to measure his waist size.

“Your waistline is your lifeline.” Many recent studies have backed up this claim. Late last year, researchers from the Epidemiology Research Program of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta found that people with larger waistlines have a much higher risk for such health problems as heart disease, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and even death. This backed up two studies from 2009, one at Harvard that linked larger waist lines with a higher risk for heart disease, and another at the University of Oxford that showed a correlation between having a high Body Mass Index (BMI) and a shorter lifespan.

Lazy orange cat lounging on a couch.

“People don’t die of old age, they die of inactivity.” With so much of our lives revolving around computers, we often spend several hours a day trapped at our desk. Unfortunately, this sedentary lifestyle can lead to a variety of problems like heart disease and high cholesterol; wellness advocates encourage desk jockeys to get up several times a day and try to walk more frequently in order to get the heart pumping. Older people often avoid exercise due to the pain of arthritis or fatigue, but studies have shown that even simply walking can help people improve memory and live longer.

Jack’s ideas of prevention and wellness are more prevalent than ever — in both the fitness and healthcare industries — as people strive to become healthier and save on medical expenses. His reminders to always eat healthy (“Eat right and you can’t go wrong!”) and to stay the course (“It’s not what you do some of the time that counts, it’s what you do all of the time that counts!”) may seem corny in the 21st century, but the lessons are as important as ever. Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from this wellness and fitness pioneer is a simple math equation: “Your health account is like your bank account. The more you put in, the more you can take out.”

Fell, James. Jack LaLanne was a healthy showoff to the very end. Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2011.

The Jack LaLanne website: www.jacklalanne.com.

The first man of fitness: Life lessons from Jack LaLanne. Men’s Health, January 24, 2011.

Span, Paula. A walk to remember? Study says yes. New York Times, February 7, 2011.

Rabin, Roni Caryn. The hazards of the couch. New York Times, January 12, 2011.

Stein, Jeannine. A larger waist may be linked to a higher death risk, study finds. Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2010.

Bakalar, Nicholas. Risks: Waist size strongly tied to heart disease. New York Times, April 20, 2009.

“Lilly…..lazy day of a couch potato ;-)” by Waidler_75 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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