Jack LaLanne — just an ordinary guy?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

June 2008

"Would you get your dog up in the morning for a cup of coffee and a donut?"

Those words are typical of the in-your-face challenges that Jack LaLanne throws at his audiences. The legendary pioneer of fitness will turn 94 on September 26th and he still exercises vigorously for two hours every day.

LaLanne really is ordinary. If he has any natural talent it's his fine singing voice that contributed to his TV and stage performances. He reached the mid-teens as a skinny, sickly kid, as sedentary and inactive as most teenagers are today. Without the distraction of television and video games he became an aggressive troublemaker, perhaps to compensate for his poor self-image.

By the time he finished high school he had discovered two elements of the Stone Age lifestyle: intense daily physical activity and a predominantly vegetarian diet. Using a friend's set of weights he experienced the feeling of well-being that exercisers today discover within a few weeks of regular physical activity. Swimming became a part of a lifelong routine. It was only mildly surprising to those who knew his lifestyle that to celebrate his 70th birthday he could tow 70 boats carrying 70 people for a mile and a half across Long Beach harbor — handcuffed and against the current!

His dietary habits are those of a Stone Age gatherer who was a lousy hunter — mostly vegetarian. He starts the day with a breakfast of 5 servings of fruit and by evening he has had 5 more, along with 5 servings of vegetables. The only animal protein in his diet comes from fish, especially salmon, and egg whites. After all, even an inept Stone Age hunter could always find eggs and it was probably easier and safer to spear a fish than a 4-legged animal that could fight back.

There is little that Jack LaLanne has done that any ordinary human could not, given a start in childhood and the same daily routine. Before the Agricultural Revolution and the ability to store food, hunter-gatherers walked several miles a day. What Jack did in the gym his ancestors did in their daily routine: lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling.

A nearly-vegetarian diet was typical during the Stone Age. It's a myth that they were good hunters. Until about 200,000 years ago their animal protein came from dead or dying animals, other predators' leftovers, slow-moving rodents and birds' eggs. When they learned how to catch fish it led to enhanced brain development. It's pure speculation on my part but their increased intake of brain-healthy omega-3 fats might have made them better hunters. So good, in fact, that they wiped out whole species, perhaps hastening their becoming farmers and herdsmen.

In other words, Jack LaLanne lives a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. If you wonder about only 2 hours a day of vigorous exercise, that's normal for humans who still live like our Stone Age ancestors. They have a lot more leisure time than most people think; it doesn't take all day to gather fruit, berries and nuts. They don't need to hunt every day. Fishing still takes patience, not brute strength.

And every day Jack LaLanne enjoys one pleasure that Stone-Agers never knew: a glass of wine.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.