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96-year-old laughed off doctors, revolutionized personal health

Chuck, I was so sad to hear about the death of fitness leader Jack LaLanne. Did he influence your devotion to diet and exercise? – Josh K., Rapid City, S.D.

The health and fitness world has lost a legend. Jack LaLanne died at 96 years of age Jan. 23 at his Morro Bay, Calif., home of respiratory failure caused by pneumonia.

Jack was born Sept. 26, 1914, in San Francisco. He once confessed: “As a kid, I was a sugarholic and a junk food junkie! It made me weak, and it made me mean. It made me so sick I had boils, pimples and suffered from nearsightedness. Little girls used to beat me up. My mom prayed. … The church prayed.”

At 15, Jack went to hear a lecture by Paul Bragg, a nutritionist and a pioneer in America’s wellness movement, and he was smitten with the idea of obtaining a healthy diet and body.

Jack voraciously studied English anatomist and surgeon Henry Gray’s pivotal work, “Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body,” calling it his health bible. As a result, in the 1930s, he devoted himself to health and fitness, bodybuilding and chiropractic medicine. And in 1936, at just 21 years old, Jack opened the nation’s first modern health studio, in an old office building in Oakland, Calif., paying $45 per month for rent.

Jack was going against the tides even then. He later explained about those days: “By then, I knew more about the workings of the muscles in my body than most doctors. People thought I was a charlatan and a nut. The doctors were against me. They said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive. Women would look like men, and even varsity coaches predicted that their athletes would get muscle-bound and banned them from lifting weights.”

Of course, time and science proved Jack right and his critics wrong. And he became a physical fitness expert and guru to millions around the world.

Jack’s career was amazing, from his early inventions, such as the first leg extension machine and the first pulley machines using cables, to his highly popular television exercise program, “The Jack LaLanne Show,” and his best-selling books, videos and infomercials.

Most inspiring to me was Jack’s courageous and adventurous spirit. His website explains many of his notable achievements and awards, including at 45 years of age completing 1,000 pushups and 1,000 chin-ups in one hour, 22 minutes, as well as at 70 years of age being handcuffed and towing 70 boats with 70 people from the Queensway Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, a distance of 1.5 miles.

Here are the top 10 ways that Jack LaLanne inspired me. I believe they will inspire you, too.

Dr. Anthony Campolo cited a study once in which 50 people older than 95 were asked, “If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?”

An array of responses came from these eldest of senior citizens. However, three answers surfaced far more often than others. 1) I would reflect more. 2) I would risk more. 3) I would do more things that would live on after I am dead.

I don’t think Jack LaLanne fell prey to any of those regrets, and his life proves it.

Jack once said, “I can’t die. It would ruin my image.”

That may be one of only a few things that he was actually wrong about.

Thank you, Jack, for more than 75 years of health and fitness inspiration, education and motivation!