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Ninety Years of Muscle

If California is world headquarters for juicing, weightlifting, supplement-happy fitness lovers, thank Jack LaLanne. Oh, and wish him happy birthday: LaLanne, who turned 90 in September, had an epiphany after attending a health lecture as a sickly, underweight 15-year-old in Berkeley, and he’s been breaking records ever since. LaLanne, who founded a chain of fitness centers and spent 30 years in Hollywood taking his revolutionary weightlifting, bodybuilding and nutritional principles to the masses on television, still weighs in on late-night television with the Power Juicer he markets with Elaine, his wife of 50 years. The Morro Bay resident gave us some pointers between trips to New York, Atlantic City and his ancestral home in southern France.

Since you gave up white flour and white sugar more than 70 years ago, what did you do about your birthday cake this year?

I didn’t eat it. I practice what I preach.

You started in Northern California and now have a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Did you basically invent the West Coast fitness movement?

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It was a struggle at first, boy. The doctors back then called me a crackpot and a nut and a charlatan. [Today] the medical profession wants you to have whole grains, five or six raw vegetables every day, five pieces of fresh fruit. You never heard that 30, 40 years ago. They said “health food” was a bunch of bull. I was the first one to have women working out with weights. I had athletes working with weights. I had 80-year-old people working out with weights. They said, “You go to that Jack LaLanne you’ll get muscle-bound, you’ll lose your sex drive, and women will look like men.” Now there’s not one world-class athlete, male or female, that doesn’t work with weights.

Is there something about Southern California that puts us ahead of the learning curve when it comes to a healthy lifestyle?

The weather has a lot to do with it. Pride and discipline have a lot to do with it. You want to look good in a bathing suit.

Does the fitness movement go overboard at times?

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Sex and exercise, you can’t overdo them. Try it. But a lot of guys have gone haywire over these damn steroids. When I was entering bodybuilding, drugs were just coming in, but I wouldn’t even take an aspirin. I just never went for that stuff.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger developed a serious heart problem.

It’s from those steroids, he admits it. Start fooling around with old Mother Nature, you get in trouble. Arnold’s a good friend of mine. I met him at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica just after he came over from Austria. We’ve been buddies ever since. I’m on the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

Do you still work out?

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Every day I get up around 5 or 6 in the morning, do about 10 minutes of stretching in bed before I get up, then I hit the gym. I do about an hour to an hour and a half with the weights, then I spend another 45 minutes to an hour in the pool. Exercise is something you have to do the rest of your life. It’s a lifestyle.

What are your main nutritional principles?

I’m a big believer in, if man makes it, don’t eat it--cakes, pies, ice cream, fries, soda pop, that’s what’s killing people. Would you get your dog up in the morning and give him a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a doughnut? You’ve got to eat more natural foods in their natural state. And you’ve got to take supplements. Your canned stuff, your fried stuff, most of your vegetables are picked green, then stored. Most people bring them home, boil the stuff and put the water down the drain. They end up with a healthy drain.

What about a steak once in a while?

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What’s wrong with that? I eat fish seven days a week. You’ve got to have some protein, whether it’s a steak or a lamb chop or chicken or turkey.

Are we in a new era of senior fitness?

There are more people than ever living to be 100. They have older people exercising, eating properly and taking the fat off. Most old people sit around and overeat. The only thing they think about is, “Ah, the good ol’ days.” The good old days are this second. Seize the moment.

Over the years you’ve done athletic feats to celebrate your birthday, such as swimming from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf.

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I was 41 years old and did it handcuffed. Another year I went from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Farallon Islands and back on one water ski, towed by a helicopter.

What did you do this year for your 90th?

Towed my wife across the bathtub!


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