The physical therapy pool at a West Los Angeles sports medicine clinic is bustling with people who are rehabbing sore or surgically repaired hips, knees and shoulders. Their faces occasionally wince as they slowly struggle through underwater exercises.
Then, a strapping older man with a full head of silvery hair, a bodybuilder's physique and a George Hamilton-like tan and smile struts poolside. It's Bob Delmonteque, a former model, fitness author and trainer, who's there for a minor tuneup to fortify his lower back. The 6-1, 200-pounder glides into the water, chatting with and charming the others, as he makes his way to the deep end of the pool.
"He's how old?" asks Mildred Hattenback, 82, as she exercises after undergoing a recent knee-replacement surgery. "How old did you say?"
Eighty-four, she is told.
"Oh my God," says the Beverly Hills resident. "Is he really? He looks terrific. He looks like he's in his 60s."
When some people see Delmonteque's photo, they think it's been digitally altered. When others see him in person, they think he's been surgically altered. Neither is true, he says. Instead, the former Mr. Universe contestant has dedicated his life to personal fitness, sculpting a body that would be the envy of a person less than half his age.
For more than half a century, Delmonteque's physique, conditioned since his teenage years through a strict regimen of exercise and diet, has been the central focus of a wildly colorful life. The Texas native has trained Hollywood movie stars from Marilyn Monroe to Matt Dillon, some of the Apollo astronauts, and written seven fitness books and numerous magazine articles. He has also owned a health club and still serves as a pitchman for nutritional supplements.
"I see myself as the Pied Piper, with thousands following me," says Delmonteque, whose latest book, "Lifelong Fitness 2004," shows off a stunning set of chiseled chest, arm and ab muscles -- and touts him as "America's No. 1 senior fitness expert."
While some (Jack La Lanne, for example) might quibble with that self-proclaimed title, health experts say there's an important role that super-fit seniors such as Delmonteque can play: inspirational role model. As health experts and gerontologists struggle to get the message out to seniors about the benefits of fitness, Delmonteque offers vivid proof of what can be accomplished -- even by someone in his or her mid-80s and beyond.
More than two-thirds of adults older than 65 have no exercise program, according to the National Institute on Aging in Washington, D.C. The figure isn't terribly surprising, say gerontologists, given the persistence of negative stereotypes that put seniors in a rocking chair rather than, say, on a bicycle.
NIA researchers have developed a new phrase, "exceptionally healthy aging," to describe seniors like Delmonteque. This not only includes people who are in phenomenal shape, but also anyone who is largely free from the chronic conditions normally associated with advanced age.
"We want to change people's idea of what aging is," says Chhanda Dutta, the institute on aging's chief of clinical gerontology. "Old people are a heterogenous population; they come in all shapes, sizes and fitness levels. Getting old doesn't mean you have to fall apart."
Gerontologists hope the largely sedentary public will seize the opportunity to boost their quality of life by embracing a daily fitness program. And it's never too late to get going, they say. Research has shown that regular cardiovascular and weight training, for as little as six weeks, can significantly improve the strength and stamina of adults even up to age 100.
The goal is not necessarily to become a magazine model for senior fitness like Delmonteque. For many seniors, the object is more basic: to be able to open a jar, lift a bag of groceries onto the counter, walk up a flight of stairs or avoid a fall, says Ken Mobily, a professor of exercise science at the Center of Aging at the University of Iowa. In short, fitness will increase the likelihood that a senior will be able to live independently for a longer period of life, he added.
"We talk about a rectangular life," says Mobily. "Instead of succumbing to a slow, gradual death with an ever-deteriorating quality, you live a healthy and fitful life."
If anyone is on track for a rectangular finish, it's Delmonteque. Besides the benefit of good genes -- his parents and grandparents lived into their 90s and 100s -- Delmonteque's daily rituals have helped ward off major illnesses and chronic conditions for more than six decades.
"When I die they are going to have to take my heart out and beat it to death," he likes to joke.
His passion for fitness began at age 14, when he became obsessed with the notion of being the best athlete in Texas, where he was raised. He ordered a weight set by mail, and that summer devised workouts that required six to eight hours per day to complete. By the end of the summer, he had packed on more than 25 pounds of muscle and transformed his body. He went on to excel in high school baseball, football and track and field. His teenage zeal for fitness is barely diminished today as he sticks to an elaborate set of routines -- some performed daily, others several times a week -- that mix cardiovascular exercise, calisthenics, weightlifting, meditation, stretching and personal grooming.
He lifts three times a week, mostly at a 24 Hour Fitness club near his home in Woodlands Hills. He prefers doing a high number of repetitions (between 12 and 15) with light weights to build endurance and muscle tone. He concentrates on a particular muscle group each day -- legs one day; chest, shoulder and triceps another; and back and biceps the next. On lifting days, he also usually either walks, jogs or rides an exercise bicycle for between 30 minutes and an hour.
"Bob's work ethic is really inspiring to people," says LeRoy Perry, head of the International SportsMedicine Institute in West Los Angeles, who has known Delmonteque for more than 30 years. "He's a great educator. People instantly like him, and he's still sharp as a tack."
Delmonteque begins his daily activities about 9 a.m., with 100 sit-ups. (He says he does another set of 100 sit-ups at day's end.)
"If you've got good abs," he says. "You've got a good body."
After the sit-ups, he usually meditates and performs yoga stretches for half an hour. Then comes the most unorthodox part of his daily fitness routine: 15 minutes of flexing, dancing and posing to music in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors in his hallway. "I'm like a prima donna ballerina," smiled Delmonteque, as he primped and posed in front of the mirrors, dribbling his biceps up and down to "Sweet Georgia Brown," the well-known theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. "I bet I'm the only 84-year-old that does this every day."
His morning regimen also includes ingesting an array of pills and liquid nutritional supplements, including fish oil, wheat germ, flax seed, vitamin C, vitamin E and more.
He finishes the morning with a stringent grooming regimen. He massages his face with cream -- 100 strokes, using only an upward motion. He takes his waist and chest measurements and then he brushes his thick mane of silver hair with two boar-bristle brushes several hundred times.
"I've been called an ab man," says Delmonteque. "But really my best asset today is my hair. Not a day goes by without someone coming up to me and saying, "My God, you have nice hair.' "
Delmonteque, who has dozens of photo albums filled with pictures of himself with various celebrities, from astronaut Alan Shepard to boxing champ Rocky Marciano, acknowledges his vanity. "It's been said I can't pass a mirror without looking at myself," he says.
His extensive work as a model has let tens of thousands of others enjoy his image perhaps as much as he has. In 1939, he appeared on his first magazine cover for a muscle publication called Physical Culture. Since then, he's modeled for scores of other fitness magazines and other publications over the decades -- not always with his clothes on.
During the 1950s, his nude photos developed an underground following in the gay community. The black and white photos are available periodically on EBay and other Internet sites. One post-World War II shot depicting Delmonteque in nothing but a sailor cap recently was being auctioned for about $200 on EBay. He claims to have worked briefly as a sex therapist, but gave that up, he says, after discovering that it didn't help his reputation.
"I didn't chase women really until I was much older," says Delmonteque, who is shown posing with a number of young female models on the beach in his latest book. "I just flirt, I don't do anything. Besides, today I'm just the 'old guy' to the [young] women."
And besides, Delmonteque notes, he has been married to his wife, Madeline, for 56 years. Of course, they have maintained separate residences for years: She lives in their Malibu house and he lives in Woodland Hills. They speak frequently on the phone, but visit with each other just a handful of times each month.
"She's as beautiful today at 82 as she ever was," he says. "She's the love of my life."
Still, Delmonteque has had to contend with injuries, especially in recent years. A shoulder injury about five years ago forced him to give up heavy weightlifting (years ago, he claims to have bench-pressed 300 pounds). And he sustained a partial tear to his Achilles tendon in a skiing accident a few months ago, which has slowed him down.
But he says you have to know when to rest and when to keep going. And he's chosen to keep going.
"Hey, I've still got a wiggle in my walk and a giggle in my talk," says Delmonteque, repeating one of his favorite lines, during a recent workout. "Most people around my age only like to talk about their aches, pains and bowel movements. I can't stand it."
Delmonteque is well-acquainted with the senior market. He travels several weeks a year to promote his books, nutritional supplements and other anti-aging products. He currently works with La Quinta-based Thane International Inc., which is promoting his "Youth Cocktail" system, an exercise, diet and supplement plan.
He says the rest of his time is taken up advising aspiring actors and actresses on how to get into shape and break into Hollywood. "I don't charge a dime," says Delmonteque. "The business has been pretty good to me."
Delmonteque likes nothing better than adopting an out-of-shape person and trying to transform him or her into a hard body. He used to be aggressive about recruitment at his local gym, he says. But he toned down those efforts after several misunderstandings.
"I'd tell people they have a problem and they'd get pretty hostile," he says. "So now I wait for them to make the first move."
One such person was Jason Fishman, who met Delmonteque three years ago, when Fishman weighed 320 pounds and was considering gastric bypass surgery.
"I talked to Bob all the time and he was always in high spirits, happy and upbeat. He gave me great advice," says Fishman, who credits Delmonteque's diet and exercise counseling with helping him to lose 150 pounds in a little more than a year.
"Hey, the guy is in tremendous shape. He's 84, and I think he knows what's going on."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Bob Delmonteque starts his day with 15 minutes of meditation, 15 minutes of yoga, logs his weight and waist measurements, and performs a personal grooming routine. Then he's ready for some exercise. Here's a sampling of his program.
Monday (chest, triceps, shoulders): Bench press, incline press, pec deck, triceps extension, French curl, triceps kick back, seated shoulder press, upright row, side lateral; 100 sit-ups; 20 minutes on a stationary bike
Wednesday (thighs and calf): Leg extension, leg curls, leg press, standing calf, leg back stretch
Friday (back): Lat machine, dumbbell rowing, rowing machine (seated), barbell curls, dumbbell curls, dumbbell concentration curl
A sample day's menu
Breakfast: Glass of hot water with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar; fruit (grapefruit or melon); bran or Irish oatmeal, with blueberries; one or two soft-boiled eggs; green tea or coffee; a piece of fruit every 2 1/2 hours
Lunch: Baked potato or yam with a piece seasonal fruit or fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt; fish or chicken breast; a piece of fruit
Dinner: 6 to 8 ounces of fish, chicken (skinless), turkey burger or steak (with fat trimmed); salad with low-fat dressing and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, peas or carrots; Jell-O or fruit for dessert (He avoids complex carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, pasta and beans.)
Source: "Lifelong Fitness 2004," by Bob Delmonteque