The ‘god-father of physical fitness,’ Jack La Lanne has died today at age 97
Meeting of the minds ... and bodies
In a fitness first, muscle master Jack La Lanne meets Body-for-Life phenom Bill Phillips for a philosophical workout. They agree: Nothing keeps you young like vigorous exercise.
On an impossibly perfect California afternoon recently, two generations of fitness gurus met for lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Santa Barbara to discuss health and fitness. The old guard was represented by the "Godfather of Fitness," Jack La Lanne. Back on his 70th birthday, he swam a mile and a half while shackled as he towed 70 boats in Long Beach Harbor. Now fit and feisty at 86, La Lanne still works out two hours a day when he's not giving motivational speeches or tending to his Web site. Representing the younger set was Bill Phillips, the 36-year-old Colorado native who sold his vitamin supplement company for nearly $200 million before penning his mega-successful fitness book, Body-for-Life. As the two got acquainted over eggs, fresh fruit and chicken breast sandwiches, La Lanne, a quick-witted testament to the benefits of nutrition and exercise, summed up his perspective: "You don't get old from calendar years," he said, removing the yolk from one of his four hard-boiled eggs. "You get old from inactivity."
USA WEEKEND: What would you tell a 50-year-old who is thinking of starting a regular exercise regimen?
LA LANNE: Get a physical. Then just start walking around the house. You can join a gym. There are a lot of good books and tapes, too.
PHILLIPS: Before even considering an exercise and nutrition program, I recommend that the person put on some swim trunks and have somebody take a photo of them. Then take a good look and ask yourself: Is this who I really am? If you don't see yourself as that, you have the opportunity to change it. But you need to change your mind-set.
LA LANNE: I tell people that the scales lie. You may have played basketball and weighed 175 pounds, with a 30-inch waist, back when you were in college. And you may still weigh 175 at 55. But you probably have a 35-inch waist and you've probably lost 30 or 40 pounds of muscle -- and gained 30 or 40 pounds of fat. The tape measure doesn't lie. Get that tape measure out and put it on your hips and your waist. Keep checking it. And keep exercising and cutting those calories down until that tape measure gets close to where you were in your prime.
PHILLIPS: Progress is made where progress is measured. People will set a New Year's resolution: "I'm gonna get in shape this year." But they don't set a parameter for how they're gonna measure it. Or if they do measure it, they wait until the first day of the next year. You'd never run a business that way. Document your progress.
USA WEEKEND: Should people who are 50 and over dive into the sort of workout program someone much younger would do?
PHILLIPS: Tufts is a leading university in research on strength training and muscle metabolism in people over 50, and they've shown that muscle cells increase in response to intense exercise -- whether you're 18 or 88. But the intensity is what's lacking in most seniors' workouts. And there are doctors who'll give you the advice, "Well, don't push it."
LA LANNE: That's ridiculous. What the hell do doctors know about exercise? Most of them know zero. You gotta push elderly people to failure like anybody else. Then the body responds.
USA WEEKEND: Lots of people start fitness routines. But how do you sustain it over a period of months, even years?
LA LANNE: Change your workout every 30 days. That's why I invented all those cable machines and the leg extension. You can't just do barbells and dumbbells.
PHILLIPS: I'm a believer in routine. I like to see people work out in the morning before they eat, because stored body fat is fuel for the workout instead of the carbohydrates you get in breakfast.
LA LANNE: And make it quick. One of the reasons so many people fail is they get on this treadmill for an hour or an hour and a half. That's totally unnecessary. If it's cardiovascular, you don't need more than 15 to 17 or 18 minutes if it's vigorous.
PHILLIPS: We also talk about progress -- not perfection -- as one of the things that helps change the mind-set. People feel so guilty about not exercising. Especially people over 50, who feel like they've gone a lifetime without taking care of themselves. Instead of aiming for perfection, you should try to celebrate the progress you're making.
USA WEEKEND: What's the biggest mistake people make when they decide to get into shape?
LA LANNE: Their goals are too high. You start out with an hour on the treadmill, then another hour of lifting -- hell, in two weeks you're not doing anything anymore. You gotta be reasonable.
PHILLIPS: Sometimes people -- especially people over 50 -- underestimate what they really are capable of. They believe they're not capable of doing something great. I tell people who are over 50, "I don't want your best. I want better than that. I want better than what you perceive your best is."
USA WEEKEND: How do you guys feel about nutritional supplements?
LA LANNE: I was the first one to come out with a protein supplement, so I think they're useful. I was also the first one to come out with the nutrition bars. The problem with stuff like creatine is they don't know too much about it.
PHILLIPS: I think creatine is good for people who have quite a bit of experience and are very serious about building muscle. But if you're just starting out, you don't need it to see fast results. People were building great bodies back in the '30s and '40s without ever using it.
PHILLIPS: What about these people who say you should eliminate carbohydrates from your diet?
LA LANNE: No!
PHILLIPS: I agree. The brain's preferred source of fuel is carbohydrates. And when you go on a low-carb/high-protein diet, your brain is using low-octane fuel. You'll be a little groggy, a little grumpy.
USA WEEKEND: If somebody was gonna do only one exercise ...
LA LANNE: Swimming. No doubt about it.
PHILLIPS: I'm always asking people to do something in their mind [first]. So if they're gonna do one exercise, it would be to ask themselves what they want to change about themselves in the next 12 weeks. Once they solve that, the body will follow.
LA LANNE: You can't separate the mind and body. It's impossible.
USA WEEKEND: What should people do first thing in the morning?
LA LANNE: Count your blessings.
PHILLIPS: Plan what you're gonna do that day and commit to it.
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