Elaine LaLanne, 96, on how she and late husband Jack LaLanne redefined health and fitness in America: ‘I learned so much from him. But he learned a lot from me, too’

Elaine Lalanne, 96, encouraged Americans to step up and move alongside her late husband, Jack Lalanne, for nearly half a century. (Photo: Getty Images and Caitlin Murray)
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Elaine LaLanne says her life can be divided into two acts: before Jack and after Jack.
Jack, of course, is Jack LaLanne, her late husband, whose television program The Jack LaLanne Show (1951 to 1985) helped redefine America's approach to health, fitness, and nutrition.
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Aside from popularizing what is now known as jumping jacks and opening the nation's first modern gym in Oakland, California in 1936, Jack was also the inventor of many gym staples - including the world's first leg extension machine, weight selection machine, and cables/ Pulley machines - as well as the first bars and "instant breakfast".
Throughout it all, Elaine was his silent business partner — and his wife for 51 years before Jack died in 2011 at the age of 96. Their illustrious careers earned them the godfather and first lady titles of fitness.
Jack and Elaine LaLanne, seen here in the 1980s, pioneered the health and nutrition movement in America. (Photo courtesy of Elaine LaLanne)
"My life is an open book," Elaine, 96, tells Yahoo Life in a video interview from her home office, where stacks of Jack's old photos and journal entries tower over her desk. "Research," she says, that she's gathering for an upcoming book about her late husband's early life on television.
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Reading his old journal entries was cathartic, Elaine says, and in many ways reminded her of why she fell in love with him in the first place.
"I was inspired again," she explains. "If you knew Jack, you couldn't be around him and couldn't be inspired. he was funny He was small [spoken]. And had a lot of sense. I used to say, 'I want to dig up all that stuff in this brain.' All the books I've ever written - I've written seven - guess who I went to? I asked him about it. I would ask him about it. I learned so much from him. But he learned a lot from me, too."
The Jack LaLane Show was a local, daily workout program in San Francisco when it debuted in 1951. It eventually grew into a national syndication and ran for over 30 years, during which time the couple - along with their dogs Happy and Lucky - challenged viewers to think differently about their eating habits.
When it first aired, Elaine says most critics called the duo "crazy health freaks."
"It was all new," she explains of the nutrition education Jack gave viewers, particularly on refined sugar (it's not great for you), butter (same theory), and the idea of ​​eating naturally-sourced ingredients. While these ideas are fairly mainstream today, it was a hard lesson for American viewers back then, since most household diets consisted of "mashed potatoes and gravy" and "butter slathered on everything," she says.
"That's what we ate back then," notes Elaine of the American diet of the late 1930s and 1940s. "A lot of people made fun of him in the papers, you know, he was a 'maniac on TV'. But he had a way. And more and more people would listen to him.
"I remember saying, 'That makes a lot of sense,'" she notes of his message. “He could put it in a simple way. You see, Jack was a very simple person. He wanted to make everything easy. He wanted to make exercises easy. He didn't want to complicate it the way he was."
The LaLannes pose with a healthy stretch at their California home in the 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Elaine LaLanne)
"It's amazing what Jack was able to do," adds Elaine, who worked in television before she met her husband, noting that her team called him "One Take Jack" because he always had last-minute spots on TV Live television station asked him to do so.
"They'd say, 'Give us a 10-second pitch for the station.' Whatever the station was, Cincinnati or New York or whatever, they always wanted him to do a little spot because he already knew in his brain.
In fact, Jack preached the benefits of healthy living and longevity well into his 90s and later appeared on several talk shows to advocate for the effects of juicing fruits and vegetables.
As his partner in life and business, Elaine helped realize many of his artistic visions that won her and her late husband (and Dr. Kenneth Cooper, who started the aerobic fitness movement) the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American College earlier this month for lifestyle medicine.
Though in many ways her success was a collaborative effort, Elaine says she's never minded being second fiddle to her affable husband.
"Since I was a little girl, I'm not one who needs awards. I just want to help people,” she says, noting that “helping people to help themselves” is a shared mission.
Today, Elaine carries Jack's mission forward, using her own experience to speak about health, wellness and longevity. She argues that it boils down to one basic principle: "Keep it simple."
"Jack was once asked a question about sports: 'Do you really enjoy playing sports, Jack?' He said, 'Well, I don't know, but I like the results,'" she says. "So when you go to the gym, think about the results you're going to get, because if you stick with it, you will Get results. And you will live longer. I think because here I am almost 97. I know for a fact that if I hadn't cared about my body I would be six feet under the ground. It's like he says : "This is God's living temple. You don't treat your car like your body, right? You don't put water in your gas tank."
"I'm just trying to get the best out of myself with the gear I have," she adds. “Jack was a great motivator. He talked about how to stay motivated, dare to dream and overcome obstacles, how your attitude counts in your life and how it changes your life.”
Elaine continues: “The ghost is a ghost. It's full of diamonds and all you have to do is dig them up."
Getting better with age
Like it or not, we are all getting older. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing, especially if you're setting yourself up for success. dr Nidhi Kumar is on call for us and says that we do indeed improve with age.
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Jack Lanne
American trainer

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