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97-Year-Old Lady Redefines Aging through Fitness

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Elaine LaLanne, at 97 years old, starts her morning exercises before even getting out of bed. She lies on top of the covers and performs two dozen jackknifes. Her commitment to physical fitness does not stop there; at the bathroom sink, she does incline push-ups. After getting dressed and applying makeup, she heads to her home gym, where she spends time walking uphill on a treadmill and doing lat pull-downs on a machine.

Elaine passionately believes that “twenty minutes a day gets me on my way.” She lives on the Central Coast of California and credits her daily exercise routine and positive mindset for her continued vitality.  According to The New York Times, Elaine LaLanne’s life story is intertwined with the history of the modern fitness movement.

For six decades, she was not only the wife but also the business partner of Jack LaLanne, often considered the father of the modern fitness movement. Jack’s exercise show ran for an impressive 34 years, from 1951 to 1985, and Elaine played a pivotal role in supporting him and managing their sprawling entertainment and entrepreneurial empire. Their endeavors included not only a TV show but also numerous fitness gadgets, food products, supplements, and a gym chain with over 100 locations across the United States. 

Since Jack’s passing in 2011, Elaine, affectionately known as LaLa to her friends, has quietly built her following. She continues to oversee the family’s remaining business, Befit Enterprises, which sells archival videos and memorabilia and licenses the LaLanne name. She has authored two books in the last four years and is working on a documentary and a feature film with Mark Wahlberg, who is set to play Jack. Esteemed figures in the fitness industry, including Denise Austin, Billy Blanks, and Lou Ferrigno, seek her guidance on life and business. 

Raised in Minneapolis, Elaine initially aspired to a career in entertainment. She moved to San Francisco in the mid-1940s, where she worked her way into television, eventually becoming a producer and co-host of a live daily variety show—an achievement rare for women in a time when few women in the industry held positions beyond secretarial roles. By the early 1950s, she had become a local celebrity and was dubbed “the sweetheart of San Francisco television.” 

At the age of 27, Elaine was a divorced single mother with a demanding job, often resorting to smoking cigarettes and eating candy bars for lunch, much like the average American of her time. However, her life took a significant turn in 1951 when she met Jack LaLanne, a local bodybuilder and gym owner who could perform push-ups on air for an entire show.

His dedication to whole foods and exercise, which he credited for transforming his life from a sickly youth to a bodybuilder, inspired Elaine to reconsider her own lifestyle choices. She realized, “I don’t want to be old when I’m old.” With Elaine’s television background and Jack’s charisma, their star power grew. Jack’s appearances on Elaine’s show eventually led to his own live show on the same network and then “The Jack LaLanne Show” in Los Angeles, the first national series dedicated to diet and exercise.

While Jack settled into Hollywood, Elaine hosted his Bay Area show and delivered lectures across the state on healthy living. Elaine also played a pivotal role in managing the business aspects of product development and licensing deals that foreshadowed the personality-driven fitness market. They introduced a range of products, including a Jack LaLanne bathroom scale, a “Glamour Stretcher” resistance band, and vitamins. But she was best known for her on-camera appearances as a co-host. 

Despite her ever-present smile and the appearance of naiveté, Elaine’s positive outlook was hard-earned. She faced a profound personal challenge on May 24, 1973, when her 21-year-old daughter from her first marriage, Janet, tragically died in a car accident. Faced with the devastating news, Elaine had a choice: to fall apart or to persevere. She chose the latter, recognizing that her daughter would not want to see her in despair. She handled her grief by focusing on the joy her daughter had brought her when she was alive, demonstrating her ability to face adversity with resilience. 

The legacy of the LaLannes goes beyond their entrepreneurial success and TV fame; they have shown the world the value of exercise in relation to aging. As Jack aged, he continued to perform impressive physical feats on his birthdays, such as towing 70 rowboats filled with 70 people during a mile-long swim at the age of 70. Elaine, too, embarked on a journey of writing books about staying active through middle age, offering titles like “Fitness After 50” and “Dynast ride!” 

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Elaine’s daily exercise routine includes stretching and hanging from a pull-up bar, using the same equipment that she and Jack used throughout their lives, including weight machines designed by Jack in the 1930s and a treadmill purchased by the couple in the early 1970s. She passionately believes that movement is key to maintaining mobility and that failing to move leads to becoming “immovable.” 

Elaine LaLanne’s life story is a testament to the power of maintaining an active lifestyle, the ability to shape one’s own experience of aging, and the resilience to face adversity with positivity and determination. Her journey, alongside her husband Jack, has left an indelible mark on the world of fitness and inspired countless individuals to pursue healthier lives. 

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