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|Interview with Jack LaLanne
Legendary Fitness Expert, Health Pioneer, Diet and Nutrition Innovator (1914-2011)
Jack LaLanne touted the value of exercise and nutrition long before it became fashionable. He was 30 years ahead of his time. His television programs brought these ideas to millions of people and helped change the way we all view health and fitness. He died in 2011 at the age of 96. This interview was conducted back in 2003 but is still relevent today. Jack was living testimony to the value of regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle. His clear message is that before 50 or after 50, it's never too late to get in shape!
Interview by Janice Hughes and Dennis Hughes, Share Guide Publishers
Share Guide: When I was in my early twenties I started a natural foods distribution company. My mom thought I was kind of crazy--eating health foods, taking supplements and exercising--but when I showed her a picture of me shaking your hand at the Natural Foods Expo, then she began to understand. That picture stayed by her bedside until she passed on, so she could explain to her friends what her oldest son was doing for a living.
Jack LaLanne: That is very touching. How old was your mom when she died?
Share Guide: She was only 62. She had ovarian cancer.
Jack LaLanne: There must have been something she was doing wrong along the line.
Share Guide: Yes, she didn't have the best lifestyle.
Jack LaLanne: That is sad. Everything you do in life, I don't care, good or bad--don't blame God, don't blame the devil, don't blame me, blame you. You control everything! The thoughts you think, the words you utter, the foods you eat, the exercise you do. Everything is controlled by you.
Share Guide: I agree. I see aging as not just about becoming feeble; I think it's about remaining hale and hardy in your senior years. What does aging well mean to you?
Jack LaLanne: It means being able to do the things that you want to do. So many people say, "I'd like to do this, I'd like to do that." The mind should control the body. When you move your fingers, when you move your toes, that's done by the mind. Remember this: your body is your slave; it works for you. If you had people working for you, employees, and it was very important what condition they were in, boy, you'd make sure you fed them right, you exercised them, gave them everything they needed so they could do things for you, right?
Share Guide: Right.
Jack LaLanne: That's what your body is. The more things you do to help your health, the more you'll be able to do. That is why a lot of people are sick and tired. They get arthritis and rheumatism and all these diseases. Then they decide to go on vacation and think that is going to help. Well, they take their problems with them! They can't leave them at home can they?
Share Guide: You can't leave your body behind at home.
Jack LaLanne: That's what I am saying. You have to take care of your 640 muscles, and the number one thing is exercise. You can eat perfectly but if you don't exercise, you cannot get by. There are so many health food nuts out there that 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. They look pretty good because the exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together and you've got a kingdom!
Share Guide: So according to you, exercise is most important?
Jack LaLanne: Exercise IS number one! Think about it: the human body, how do you hurt it?
Share Guide: By not using it.
Jack LaLanne: Right! So many older people, they just sit around all day long and they don't get any exercise. Their muscles atrophy, and they lose their strength, their energy and vitality by inactivity.
Share Guide: You are right. I have done a survey of Share Guide readers, and many more of them buy natural foods than exercise.
Jack LaLanne: That's what I am saying. They think they are going to get it out of a bottle or a pill or food.
Share Guide: So people need to learn to make the time to exercise.
Jack LaLanne: Yes, exercise is the catalyst. That's what makes everything happen: your digestion, your elimination, your sex life, your skin, hair, everything about you depends on circulation. And how do you increase circulation? By exercise. I'll tell you one thing, you don't always have to be on the go. I sit around a lot, I read a lot, and I do watch television. But I also work out for two hours every day of my life, even when I'm on the road.
Share Guide: In your most recent book, Revitalize Your Life, you talk about reversing the aging process.
Jack LaLanne: Absolutely. For example, take a guy that's 60 years old and hasn't exercised. Say you exercise him for 6 to 8 weeks--you can double his strength and double his endurance. Test after test has been done all over the world to prove this. They have even taken people in their 90's and put them on a weight training program and doubled their strength and endurance. Just think what the younger people at 50, 60, 70 and 80 can do if they can do that with 90 year olds.
Share Guide: So you're saying that even though we all are aging every day, exercise can counteract that?
Jack LaLanne: Absolutely. You can ward it off; you can prolong your life. I've outlived the age of maturity. I have showed my system works.
Share Guide: Many people who go to the gym only go three days a week rather than six or seven. What do you think about this?
Jack LaLanne: Three days is enough if it's vigorous.
Share Guide: I go to the gym in the morning before work, around 7 am.
Jack LaLanne: Do you work with the weights?
Share Guide: Sometimes. I start with 30 minutes on the treadmill or stairmaster.
Jack LaLanne: Twelve to seventeen minutes is plenty on the treadmill--if it's done fast. That's all you need for cardiovascular benefit. You don't need to spend that extra time unless you are over weight and you need to burn off extra calories.
Share Guide: How fast do I need to go on the treadmill?
Jack LaLanne: Do it vigorously, like somebody is chasing you. You've got to do it hard. Otherwise, if you just take it easy and do it longer, you are spending all that time when you don't need it. Use that extra time with your weights instead. Focus on your problem zones, your strength, your energy, your flexibility and all the rest. Maybe your chest is flabby or your hips or waist need toning. Also, you should change your program every thirty days. That's the key.
Share Guide: How important do you think it is to have a personal trainer?
Jack LaLanne: If it's for the average person that doesn't have any willpower, it's important. For the person that is really progressing and they read up a lot and they have a lot of energy and discipline, they don't need a trainer. It depends on the individual. I don't need a trainer--I am my own trainer.
Share Guide: But someone that is just starting to go to the gym, they might want to get some training.
Jack LaLanne: Yes, just starting up it would be good to get a trainer for a couple of months. But not everyone can afford it. I know a lot of older people can't manage that.
Share Guide: So you think that working out three times a week is enough if you are vigorous about it?
Jack LaLanne: If you are ambitious and you want to do more, then I would do 4 days. Exercise vigorously one day and rest the next.
Share Guide: On the alternate days when I am not at the gym, I do yoga or tai chi.Those are not as vigorous.
Jack LaLanne: No, but they help with coordination and increase the circulation.
Share Guide: Right, they make the energy flow, kind of like a meditation in motion.
Jack LaLanne: I say if you enjoy it, do it. Let me ask this: when you are at the gym, how long do you rest before you do the next exercise?
Share Guide: Generally I do two sets of 10&endash;12 reps with a minute in between.
Jack LaLanne: That's too long. I rest ten seconds between sets.
Share Guide: Two sets per exercise?
Jack LaLanne: That is the very minimum. I do 20 sets for deltoids, 20 sets for pecs, and 20 sets for lats. It's important to change things around. Maybe for 30 days I might do ten reps with high weight, but the tenth rep should be to failure.
Share Guide: Meaning you can't quite do it?
Jack LaLanne: That's it. Then you build muscle and you build strength. Then for say 30 days I'll cut the weight down a bit and do fifteen reps. Then maybe for 30 days I'll add weight and do only 5 or 6 reps, then for another 30 days I'll do everything really slow. Try that sometimes. Like you are doing a prayer. Eight counts to bring it up and eight counts to let it down. That is very hard, I'll tell you! Then I'd do everything for a while real fast. You aren't used to any of this so the body responds. Pretty soon the hips and knees start to go, doing the same thing day after day. I am also very high on pool exercises. I started doing exercises when I was 15 or 16 years old called Jack LaLanne Hydronastics. I worked every muscle of the body in the pool. It's very effective.
Share Guide: I remember reading that you feel swimming is a very comprehensive exercise.
Jack LaLanne: Yes. You should do it against the clock. Say you are going to do 30 laps in 15 minutes. Then you try to do it each day a little faster. That is putting demands on the body, and that is how you build up. You keep up your energy instead of going downhill.
Share Guide: So it's important to challenge yourself and vary the things that you do.
Jack LaLanne: That's right. Many people have arthritis and rheumatism; they get bum knees, a bum back. A lot of guys get a little pain in the toe or knee and then they won't exercise. Well gee, you have 640 muscles in your body. There may be a few exercises you can't do, but there are hundreds you can do! Too many people make excuses like I am too old, or I don't have the time, or it costs money. Then when they get sick they go to the doctor and want a shot in the backside to make them healthy. Many so-called spiritual people, they overeat, drink too much, they smoke and don't exercise. But they do go to church every week and pray "Please help my arthritis. Please help me bring up my strength, make me young again." But tell me, can God go to the gym to work out for you? God helps those that help themselves. You have to do it! God or some omnipotent power or whatever you want to believe in gives you the energy, the will to do it, but you have to do it yourself. If you haven't exercised for a long time, just start out for a couple of minutes a day. Then work it up a little bit. You'd be surprised at the end of thirty days, how many things you are doing. How do you build up your bank account? By putting something in it everyday.Your health account is no different. What I do today, I am wearing tomorrow. If I put inferior foods in my body today, I'm going to be inferior tomorrow, it's that simple. What does age mean? Not being able to do the things you used to do. If I can get you doing things you haven't done for ten or fifteen years, isn't that exciting?
Share Guide: Yes it is. What about people who have disabilities and injuries, or are in a wheel chair?
Jack LaLanne: Work around it. If you can't use your legs, you can sit in a chair and you can do curls, you can do presses, you can do stretches. There are all kinds of things you can do. Or maybe you can't use your upper body but you can work your legs.
Share Guide: So you'd still be getting your circulation going.
Jack LaLanne: Absolutely! You can take them in a wheelchair and put them in a pool, so they can move their arms and legs. In a pool disabled people can do things that they can't normally do otherwise.
Share Guide: Have you modified your regimen since you were younger?
Jack LaLanne: Absolutely not. Although for many years I worked out at four in the morning and then later I started at five. Now my workout begins around 5:30 or 6:00 am. But I never think of age. The only person that talks of age is my wife. She says, "Oh look at Jack! He's going to be 88!" I think about TODAY; I don't think about tomorrow. I think about this moment and what I am going to do.
Share Guide: So you still exercise every single day even though you don't start quite as early.
Jack LaLanne: Yes, I do it as a therapy. I do it as something to keep me alive. We all need a little discipline. Exercise is my discipline.
Share Guide: In your book you mention that you were a vegetarian at one point for 6 years.
Jack LaLanne: I was a strict vegetarian. Then I decided to enter a Mr. America contest (which I won) and in those days they thought that in order to build muscle you had to have meat. So I ate meat for a while.
Share Guide: Why did you stop being a strict vegetarian?
Jack LaLanne: In those days everybody was saying that you had to eat meat to build muscle, so I went on a meat thing for awhile. NowI only eat fish--no chicken, no turkey, just fish. I get all my protein from fish and egg whites.
Share Guide: That is what my favorite healing authority says, Dr. Andrew Weil. He believes in eating fish and dairy on top of the vegetarian diet--the vegaquarian diet.
Jack LaLanne: I use no milk of any kind. Anything that comes from a cow I don't eat.
Share Guide: You aren't eating nonfat yogurt with your fruit anymore?
Jack LaLanne: I may take one bite. Or a little skim milk once in a while is not going to hurt you. It isn't what you do once in a while that's a problem; it's what you do all the time. Look at the average American diet: ice cream, butter, cheese, whole milk, all this fat. People don't realize how much of this stuff you get by the end of the day. High blood pressure is from all this high-fat eating. Do you know how many calories are in butter and cheese and ice cream? Would you get your dog up in the morning for a cup of coffee and a donut? Probably millions of Americans got up this morning with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a donut. No wonder they are sick and fouled up.
Share Guide: Do you use supplements?
Jack LaLanne: Are you kidding? About 40 or 50 a day. Everything from A to Z. Ninety percent of them are natural, as much as I can take. I take enzymes, I take herbs, the whole bit!
Share Guide: Do you advocate a little red wine? Is that okay with you?
Jack LaLanne: Absolutely! I'd rather see you drink a glass of wine than a glass of milk. So many people drink Coca-Cola and all these soft drinks with sugar. Some of these drinks have 8 or 9 teaspoons of sugar in them What's the good of living if you can't have the things that give a little enjoyment? I never drink wine unless I am eating though. I take it with my meal.
Share Guide: How about water? I know I should drink more water.
Jack LaLanne: I drink 6 or seven glasses of water a day. I also drink vegetable juice. And I have at least 5 or 6 pieces of fresh fruit everyday and 10 raw vegetables.
Share Guide: How do you feel about organic foods?
Jack LaLanne: It's a bunch of bull. How do you know what's really organic? Today, there's all these impurities in the water and the air. The water for the fruits and vegetables has junk in it. If you get enough vitamins and minerals out of normal food and whole grains, and you get enough proteins and exercise (that's the key) then nature builds up a tolerance to all of these things. It's survival of the fittest. You can't have everything perfect, that's impossible, but the fit survive. The fit can handle the impurities in the air and in the water, but the poor people who are sick, it really affects them more.
Share Guide: So you're saying that people will have more resistance to toxins if they exercise.
Jack LaLanne: Absolutely, that's the key. If you want to eat more organic that's fine, but I don't go out of the way to get to organic vegetables. The way I eat, I am really high on vegetable juice. I have a juicer coming out right now on the Home Shopping Network, called the Jack LaLanne Power Juicer.
Share Guide: That's great. You know, I hadn't heard much from you for a long time. Then I noticed your interview in What Is Enlightenment magazine recently. It was nice to see that you are still healthy and on the scene.
Jack LaLanne: We've never been busier. I lecture all over the world. I lecture to medical doctors, lawyers and colleges. I have spoken to a whole group of millionaires, head executives at Microsoft. Boy did I chew those guys out.
Share Guide: For being lazy?
Jack LaLanne: Yes! I said, "You should be the examples. Here you are influencing thousands and thousands of employees. You should be the first ones to work. You are the ones that should set the example and stand for what it is to be healthy and successful. People look up to you. You have got to take care of the most important person in the world, YOU!" For many of these guys, the only things they think about is making money, money, money and business stuff, and they forget about their body. Without their body, they are nothing. I never got such response in my life. I got a standing ovation for about 5 minutes. Every one of those big multimillion-dollar execs that got my autograph said things like, "Jack, that is the most stirring speech I've ever heard in my life. I am going to start tomorrow. I am going to go get a physical, go back to the gym and get a trainer!"
Share Guide: How important do you think it is to get a medical check up?
Jack LaLanne: If you are over 25 or 30 years old, then get one.
Share Guide: And then once a year?
Jack LaLanne: Yes, that's a good idea. I don't care how well you think you are eating or exercising, little things can happen.
Share Guide: Once you have done that, then you chart a course for diet and exercise.
Jack LaLanne: Absolutely. You don't have to be a nut. You don't have to be like Jack LaLanne either. The way I eat, I get my nutrition from fruits and raw vegetables every day. My wife and I eat out practically every night, and I've got every restaurant trained. The Chinese restaurants we go to have brown rice, and other restaurants make sure they have the right soups for us, with no butter or cream.
Share Guide: So you think it is possible to eat healthily at restaurants if you're careful.
Jack LaLanne: Yes, we eat out almost every night. You can eat well if they do a good job. Sometimes I bring my own pita bread for example--we work at it.
Share Guide: In your book, Revitalize Your Life, you provide a chart in it for people to track their course. What would you tell a beginner?
Jack LaLanne: The main thing is to start a weight training program. It's not about seeing how much you can lift. I'm talking about specific exercises for your arms, shoulders, chest and back. With weight training you can control things, work around your infirmities, if you have an injury or pain in a certain area. That is the beautiful part about weights: even if you are 100 year old, you can lift something. Maybe it's only a half a pound or a pound or two pounds. It will still do something.
Share Guide: Do you prefer the free weights or the machines?
Jack LaLanne: Free weights. But I invented most of the machines in the gyms. All the leg extension machines to the weight selectors, every one of those I invented way back in the 30's.
Share Guide: If you prefer the free weights, then why develop the machines?
Jack LaLanne: For variety. When you are running a gym for the public, you've got to get variety and change the people's programs every 30 days. Then the people break the monotony of doing the same thing. If you had to eat carrots for the rest of your life you'd be so damned bored and malnourished, wouldn't you? These machines of today are terrific. But the weights should be an integral part of it.
Share Guide: I broke my wrist when I was 20 and it's been a weak area ever since. What do you recommend I do?
Jack LaLanne: Work that sucker! Get a good ball that you can squeeze. The main thing though, is to take a weight and put your hand over a chair or bench with your palms down. Put a weight in your hand and lift it up. Then you take your palms facing up and you curl it into you. Work it backhand and forehand, to get the pronation and supination of it. Then take the dumb bells and spin them to the right and to the left. That gets everything in your wrist. These exercises are things you never do in your daily living.
Share Guide: How much weight should I use?
Jack LaLanne: Whatever you can handle, it's up to you. Pick something where you are going to do it to failure--in other words, where you can hardly do it. That's the key. So many people will just take five pound weights and do something 10 times. What are they getting out of it? Nothing! Say you are going to build up your bank account. If you put in a penny a day, it's going take a long while. It's the same with exercise--the more you put into it the more you take out.
Share Guide: So even with a weak area, you should work it to exhaustion?
Jack LaLanne: Absolutely, but start it slowly. Do a little bit, then start increasing it.
Share Guide: That makes sense. It's important to focus on weak areas rather than denying them.
Jack LaLanne: That's right, don't kid yourself. You have a mirror, right? And you know what you can do. One thing that you have to remember is SCALES LIE! The biggest liars we have are the scales. I always ask in my lectures, "What did you weigh when you were 20 years old?" Someone will say, "Oh, I weighed 170 lbs." But then they played football and basketball, and were in good shape. Now they guy is 50 years old and he says, " Jack, I haven't gained a pound! I weigh 170 just like I did when I was 20!" I'll say "Really, that's wonderful! How big was your waist when you were 20?" "Oh, 30 inches" "How big is it today?" "Oh, 36." The sands of time have shifted. The guy put five or six inches on his waist. You figure about every inch is five pounds approximately. That guy has gained about 30 pounds of fat and lost 30 pounds of muscle and the scale says he weighs the same.
Share Guide: So it's what you are made of not how much you weigh.
Jack LaLanne: Yes. What you need to do is get that tape measure out, and start measuring that gut. Then you start working out and you start eating properly till that gut gets down close to it was when you were in your 20's. Then you'll find out what your weight should be.
Share Guide: Sounds like a lot of sit-ups to me!
Jack LaLanne: It's not sit-ups, it's everything! In fact, if you've got a big gut and you start doing sit-ups, you are going to get bigger because you build up the muscle. You've got to get rid of that fat! How do you get rid of fat? By changing your diet. You can't get rid of it with exercise alone. You can do the most vigorous exercise and only burn up 300 calories in an hour. If you've got fat on your body, the exercise firms and tones the muscles. But when you use that tape measure, what makes it bigger? It's the fat! A two or three inch layer of fat. The only way you get that fat off is to eat less and exercise more.
Share Guide: Is that is what you mean by saying "your waistline is your lifeline?"
Jack LaLanne: Yes. Getting out of shape is like a thief in the night that sneaks up on you. I always tell people that it is never too late. I tell them about the folks in their 90's that doubled their strength and endurance. In the old days the doctors would say: "Slow down Jack, you're going to have a heart attack; you won't be able to get an erection; you'll make the women look like men." They thought that athletes that worked out with my system wouldn't be able to throw a ball because they'd be too muscle bound. Those are the misconceptions I had to go through for about 40 years. Now the medical profession is saying something different. Every one of the doctors without exception is saying, "Build muscle." Things really changed after I went on television and got the message out. That's when I starting reaching millions of people. In fact, I just made The Guinness Book of World Records for being on television 34 years non-stop (20 years in Europe).
Share Guide: Are you planning on going back on television?
Jack LaLanne: We are back on TV right now. I have a one-minute "Jack LaLanne Tip of the Day" on about 70 stations now.
Share Guide: Dr. Dean Ornish has written that social interaction is important as well as good exercise and diet--especially later in life. What do you think about social interaction and spirituality?
Jack LaLanne: You have to be pretty stupid to think there isn't a Supreme Being to put all this together. Do you think that man could ever make a heart that is indestructible? Do you think that man could make a calculator like your brain? Do you think that man could ever make a machine that the only way you could hurt it is don't use it? Could man make a machine that in every 90 days practically every cell changes? Think about this. Look at all the creatures, the snakes, the worms and the birds, and the entire universe and everything that goes on. Don't you think there is a universal power, that there is some Supreme Being that put this all together? You don't have to call it God or Jesus. That's religious humbug to a lot of people, but you've gotta believe that nature and spiritual things surround us. That is what put us here! I thank the universe for that every day of my life. We don't know all the answers. If we knew all the answers we'd be bored, wouldn't we? We keep looking, searching, trying to get more knowledge. I'm just trying to help people with my lectures. I say, "You are out on the sea and drowning yourselves. Here is a life preserver. Grab it. I can save your life. Help yourself!"
Share Guide: George Burns almost made it to 100 but he smoked cigars, drank alcohol and was not a health nut. How do you account for his longevity and others like him?
Jack LaLanne: George Burns was more athletic than you think he was. And he was a very social man--he loved people, he enjoyed life. He worked at living. Old George was a social lion, he got around and did things. That's the key right there. It starts with your brain. Some people, when they get to 60 years old have no interests anymore, have no friends left. George Burns was busy all the time doing something. My oldest son, Danny, was in Beverly Hills going down the street in his brand new car and this guy in a stretch limousine came through a stop sign and hit him broadside. Danny got out of the car and was going to punch the guy out. He looks in the car and who is riding in the limousine? George Burns! Can you believe this? Danny said, "Jack LaLanne is my Dad!" He said, "Jack LaLanne, That's my buddy! I watch him all the time. I want you to come over to the house. Don't worry about the car, I'll pay you cash. I won't tell my insurance, I don't want to fool with it." So Danny went over to the house and they had a couple of drinks. He gave him 300 or 400 bucks for the damage to his car and they became friends. He was a hell of a guy.
Share Guide: Do you see yourself living to be over 100?
Jack LaLanne: I don't care how old I live; I just want to be LIVING while I am living! I have friends of mine that are in their 80's and now they are in wheelchairs or they're getting Alzheimer's. Who wants that? It's terrible. I want to be able to do things; I want to look good; I don't want to be a drudge on my wife and my kids. And I want to get my message out to the people. I might live forever or it may seem like that. I tell people I can't afford to die; it will wreck my image! I am proud to say I was just voted in to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This year I get my star.
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