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Elaine LaLanne— still going strong!

Created date

November 7th, 2016
Elaine LaLanne keeps her husband Jack's fitness legacy alive and well.

Elaine LaLanne keeps her husband Jack's fitness legacy alive and well.

Before Tony Horton, Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda, there was Jack LaLanne. Known as the “Godfather of Fitness,” he started a revolution that has grown into a $22.4 billion a year industry. LaLanne’s accomplishments could fill volumes, but he is best known for his television fitness program—the longest running program of its kind (1953–1985).

He was also the first person to encourage average Americans to get up and move. He knew the benefits of exercise and wanted everyone to enjoy them. Even early on, he urged those with physical challenges to exercise by working around their disabilities. 

Viewers of his daily show will surely remember LaLanne’s wife Elaine, who exercised by his side. She appeared on the show, in part, to show women viewers that physical fitness would not cause them to develop bulky unfeminine muscles—a major concern back then.

When asked about his wife, Jack said, “If you are around her for any length of time, you will find her enthusiasm for life is contagious. She can do push-ups, chin-ups, she’s a terrific golfer, swimmer, and all around athlete. She’s an author, lecturer, civic leader. In fact, she runs BeFit Enterprises and She is a super wife and good friend. To me, she is living proof of all that a woman can be.” 

Sadly, Jack passed away at the age of 95 in 2011, but his legacy lives on through the work of Elaine and their children. Besides running the family fitness empire from her California home, Elaine continues to live life to the fullest.   

We chatted over the phone and what follows is an abbreviated version of our conversation.  

Harris: How did you meet Jack?

LaLanne: I cohosted an afternoon television program in San Francisco. I also booked the guests who appeared on the show. Someone called me and said, “I’ve got this guy who could do push-ups for your whole show,” and I said that would be great. So we met when Jack came on the show to do push-ups. He then got his own show and we worked together in the newsroom.

Harris: What was your first impression of him?

LaLanne: One day I was at my desk eating my chocolate doughnut and smoking and he said, “You know, you should be eating apples, and bananas, and oranges. If I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t tell you this.” 

I didn’t like him so I blew smoke in his face. He was right, though. I quit smoking, cut out white flour and white sugar products, broiled everything I used to fry, and began an exercise program. A month later, my body was changed.

Harris: Jack asked you out?

LaLanne: Yes. In those days, people thought there wasn’t much upstairs when it came to muscle-men. On our first date, we went dancing, and while we were waiting for our table, he sang to me and I thought, “Oh my gosh, he can dance, he can sing, and he’s smart.” He was the whole package. We really hit it off, and we went together for 6 years and were married for 52. 

Harris: What’s your typical day like?

LaLanne: I try to do my exercises in the morning. Jack would work out for two hours every day. I’m more of a twenty minutes to half-hour person, but I do it vigorously. I swim, I do push-ups, side bends, squats, and leg lunges. Your waist has four sides to it, and a lot of people think of it as only the front, but you really need to work all four sides. I also play golf as much as I can.

Harris: What’s the story behind those jumpsuits you and Jack wore on the show?

LaLanne: One day, Jack said, “We’ve got to wear a uniform on the show. His only requirement was that the fabric needed to stretch. At that time, the only fabric that stretched was wool so that’s what we had. Mine was green and Jack’s was red.

Harris: Was it comfortable?

LaLanne: Yes, very comfortable. 

Harris: How about your diet?

LaLanne: When I reached the age of 80, I told Jack “To hell with everything! If I want a piece of cake, by golly, I’ll have it.” I was so good for so many years and I decided it was time to relax a little. Here I am at 90 still going strong. It’s not what you do all of the time, it’s what you do most of the time that counts. People can become fanatics about this stuff. Moderation is the key.

Harris: You still work, running BeFit Enterprises.

LaLanne: Yes! We’re partnering with a Canadian company on the ultimate all-in-one system full-body workout. It’s called Core Strength Powered by Jack LaLanne. It looks kind of like a picnic table and 16 people can work on it at once. 

I’m also lecturing and doing everything I can to keep Jack’s legacy alive. He changed the culture. He changed people’s lives. People in their 50s and 60s tell me that all the time, but a lot of young people don’t know who he is and I want to be sure that younger generations know about him and all he accomplished. 

Editor’s note: In next month’s issue, find out what Jon LaLanne is doing to promote his father’s legacy. In the meantime, check out