Jack LaLanne, A Testament to Living Your Passion

“The only way you hurt your body is not using it.” This quote is one of many legacies left by Jack LaLanne, who passed away yesterday at 96. The “godfather of fitness” invented the the leg extension machine in 1936, the gym chain that eventually became Bally Total Fitness, and the Power Juicer. He hosted a fitness TV show for more than 30 years. He was the first person to recommend that women lift weights.

Jack LaLanne accomplished a lot. But what really made him great is that he practiced what he preached every single day. He worked out every day for two hours, right up to the end. He hadn’t eaten a desert with sugar since 1930. He’d change his routine once a month.

Age didn’t seem to affect LaLanne’s fitness much, either. He did 1,033 push-ups on a TV show when he was 42. When he was 70, he towed 70 rowboats for a mile in the ocean near Long Beach.

From when he was young–and converted to health foods and fitness after a self-proclaimed sugar addiction–he was driven by passion to help people around him. From the New York Times:

He opened his first health studio when he was 21, and a decade and a half later he turned to television.

“People thought I was a charlatan and a nut,” he remembered. “The doctors were against me — they said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive.” But Mr. LaLanne persevered, and he found a national pulpit in the age of television.

“He was perfect for the intimacy of television,” Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, told The San Jose Mercury News in 2004. “This guy had some of the same stuff that Oprah has and Johnny Carson had — the ability to insinuate themselves in the domestic space of people’s lives.”

Long before Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda and the Atkins diet, Mr. LaLanne was a national celebrity, preaching regular exercise and proper diet. Expanding on his television popularity, he opened dozens of fitness studios under his name, later licensing them to Bally. He invented the forerunners of modern exercise machines like leg-extension and pulley devices. He marketed a Power Juicer to blend raw vegetables and fruits and a Glamour Stretcher cord, and he sold exercise videos and fitness books. He invited women to join his health clubs and told the elderly and the disabled that they could exercise despite their limitations.

Few people, even successful entrepreneurs, have the lifelong passion and verve that LaLanne had. It was a rare and beautiful combination. Fitness may be LaLanne’s most obvious legacy, but the way he lived his life was the true inspiration. For this, he should always be remembered.