“You have to move,” she said. “If you don’t move, you become immovable.”








This seems the perfect time to continue my “keep on moving” posts. I just returned from an ambitious trek to DC, our nation’s capital, where I walked a lot. Four days were used to visit sites and the rest at a conference of high energy and more walking. In total, I walked a marathon and a half, about 38 miles. And I’m not done yet 😉 as I prepare for a move.

“You have to move,” she said. “If you don’t move, you become immovable.”

You may have never heard of her, but you most certainly have heard of her husband, Jack LaLanne. Elaine was his muse and best teacher.

Elaine LaLanne — who revolutionized modern exercise alongside her husband, Jack — is a model for aging well.

‘I don’t want to be old when I’m old.’

Elaine LaLanne’s morning exercises often begin before she’s even out of bed. Lying on top of the covers, she does two-dozen jackknifes. At the bathroom sink, she does incline push-ups. After she dresses and applies her makeup, she heads to her home gym, where she walks uphill on a treadmill for a few minutes and does lat pull-downs on a machine.

“Twenty minutes a day gets me on my way,” she said at her home on the Central Coast of California.

But her biggest daily feat of strength, she says, happens above her shoulders. At 97 years old, Ms. LaLanne reminds herself each morning, “You have to believe you can.” She said that belief had not only kept her physically active through injuries and emotional obstacles, it had also helped her to live the life of someone decades younger. “Everything starts in the mind,” she said.

Ms. LaLanne’s habit of speaking in aphorisms (“It’s not a problem, it’s an experience”; “You do the best you can with the equipment you have”) is a product of a lifetime of trying to inspire people to move more and better themselves. For nearly six decades, she was both wife and business partner to the television personality Jack LaLanne, who is widely considered the father of the modern fitness movement, and whose exercise show ran for 34 years, from 1951 to 1985.

Raised in Minneapolis, Elaine dreamed of a career in entertainment. In the mid-1940s, she went west to San Francisco, where she worked her way into the nascent medium of television, eventually becoming a producer and co-host of a live daily variety show, which was rare in an era when few women in the medium moved beyond secretarial roles. By the early 1950s, she had become a local celebrity, whom one reporter called “the sweetheart of San Francisco television.”

A divorced single mother with a demanding job, Elaine, then 27, smoked cigarettes, ate candy bars for lunch and, like most Americans of the time, didn’t devote much thought to exercise and nutrition.

Then one day in 1951, the press agent for a local bodybuilder and gym owner called the studio and said her client could do pushups on air for an entire show. Sure enough, Jack LaLanne pulled it off, lifting and lowering his 5-foot-6-inch frame through a full 90-minute program while the hosts carried on as usual.

Soon after they met, Jack walked over to Elaine’s desk at the studio and chided her for eating a doughnut and smoking. “She blew him off, literally, taking a gratuitous bite of her doughnut and puffing cigarette smoke in his face,” fitness historian Ben Pollack wrote in 2018.

But in time, she fell not only for him, but for his beliefs about eating whole foods and exercising — which he adapted from the early-20th-century lifestyle celebrity Paul Bragg, and which he credited for transforming him from a sickly youth to a bodybuilder. It got her thinking, “I don’t want to be old when I’m old.”

With Elaine’s television background and Jack’s charisma, the LaLanne star rose. Jack’s appearance on Elaine’s show eventually led to his own live show on the same network and then the “The Jack LaLanne Show,” in Los Angeles, which became the first national series devoted to diet and exercise. As Jack was getting settled in Hollywood, Elaine would host his Bay Area show and give lectures across the state about healthy living.

“She was the guiding force behind Jack,” said Rick Hersh, Ms. LaLanne’s talent agent for more than 40 years.

While Jack was a natural showman — he rose to fame performing acrobatics on Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach in the 1930s — Elaine preferred to work behind the scenes, supporting him and managing their sprawling entertainment and entrepreneurial empire, which included not only a TV show but dozens of fitness gadgets, food products and supplements, as well as a gym chain with more than 100 locations nationwide.

Since Jack’s death in 2011, however, Elaine (whom friends call LaLa) has quietly cultivated a following all her own. She still runs her family’s remaining business, BeFit Enterprises — which sells archival videos and memorabilia and licenses the LaLanne name — from a ranch nestled among dusty hills and livestock.

She has published two books in the last four years and is developing both a documentary and a feature film with Mark Wahlberg, who has signed on to play Jack. And longtime fitness industry power players — the 1990s home workout queen Denise Austin, the Tae Bo guru Billy Blanks, the bodybuilding legend Lou Ferrigno — seek her counsel on navigating life and business.

Ms. LaLanne said that her life has been built on the importance of positive thinking. In the same way she trains her muscles, she said, she has trained her mind to look for silver linings almost by force of will.

Now, aren’t you glad you now know more about her? My own personal experience is you must keep moving. It benefits your body, your mind, and your soul.

“Your attitude determines your latitude.”


At 97, the First Lady of Fitness Is Still Shaping the Industry
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