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I’m still fighting fit at 97 – these are my fitness secrets

Along with her late husband, Elaine LaLanne revolutionised modern fitness in the 50s and 60s – now she wants to share her inspiration.
The First Lady of Fitness is demonstrating her “Face-A-Tonic” exercises. “You have more than 50 muscles in your face. Place two fingers on the bones right below your eyes. Just lightly touch,” she instructs. “When you close your eyes, you can feel those muscles working. Open your mouth wide, close and open. I do a lot of this because when we get older, it feels like everything is closing up. Stick your chin forward, and blow your cheeks out. Then suck them back in.”
 
Elaine LaLanne will turn 98 in March. She begins each day with her face exercises, followed by a 20-minute workout, starting with two-dozen jackknife sit-ups – lying on her back with legs extended, arms overhead. At the bathroom sink, she does incline push-ups. Then she heads to her home gym, where she walks uphill on a treadmill for several minutes and does lateral pull-downs on a machine that her husband designed in the 1930s.
 
“I keep my core strong because when you think about an apple or anything with a core, it’s a nice, strong apple,” she says. “That’s what I want to be. I weigh the same as I did at 65, even though the measurements are different.”
 
For those in the UK who haven’t heard of her, Elaine (nickname “Lala”) has been in the public eye for over 70 years. Long before Jane Fonda, she pioneered flexitards and leg warmers. Elaine and her late husband, the television personality Jack LaLanne, revolutionised modern fitness in the 1950s and 1960s, changing the way Americans view ageing by highlighting the health benefits of regular exercise, proper nutrition and a positive attitude. 
 
Jack opened the first modern health club, Jack LaLanne’s Physical Culture Studio in an old office building in Oakland, California, in 1936, which became a prototype for dozens of similar gyms bearing his name. Here he offered supervised weight and exercise training and gave nutritional advice. In 1951, he was the first person to have a national exercise TV show: the Jack LaLanne Show ran until 1985. Today, fans include Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
 
As Jack’s co-host, Elaine became just as famous as her husband, making building muscle seem acceptable for women. Behind the scenes, she helped run the couple’s empire of gyms, fitness equipment and supplements (marketed under the Jack LaLanne brand).
 
Photos abound of Jack looking ripped in his unitard. There were no steroids, she stresses; he did it naturally. “People say: ‘Oh boy, Lala, what a body’ and I say: ‘Honey, I didn’t fall in love with his body. I fell in love with his brain.’”
 
Jack died in 2011 at the age of 96 but Elaine had no intention of retiring. She has just published a book about Jack’s life, Pride & Discipline, and is busy developing both a documentary and a feature film with Mark Wahlberg, who has signed up to play Jack.
 
“I’ve always got a project,”  says Elaine, who puts on make-up every day. “I dress every morning like I’m going to work. I don’t ever run around in my pyjamas. Have you ever been caught off guard, when somebody comes to your house, and you think: ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I’d put that on’? So I dress every day, even if there’s an empty office,” she says cheerfully. “My office loves me because I’m here 24/7.”
 
Here, Lala shares her ageless inspiration with the rest of us: 
 

14 ways to be super-fit to 100

“People ask me the secret to living a healthy, youthful life in your 90s. My answer is simple: Exercise is King. Nutrition is Queen. Put them together and you have a Kingdom.”
 

If you don’t move, you shrivel up

As we age, we lose muscle. Resistance training, body-weight exercises and sufficient protein intake help to put the breaks on this progression. We speed up the ageing process when we stop moving. And in order to keep your mind active, you have to be active.
 

Mix up your exercise

Stretch, lift weights, play golf, clean your house. You need both muscle-strengthening exercises and aerobic activity 20 minutes a day. The harder you breathe, the more oxygen you take into your bloodstream and the faster you burn fat. Scientists have found that brain neurones – the special cells that perform all the necessary functions to keep you alive, as well as help you think and improve your memory – all increase after a few weeks of exercise.
 

Keep your waist trim

Fat is like a river, it will flow to whichever part of the body has the least resistance. The less fat you have to carry around, the more energy you acquire. Every pound of excess weight puts a needless strain on the heart.
 

Don’t be bored. Or boring! 

Find a hobby. Always have something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to. People don’t die of old age, they die of neglect and inactivity. 
 

Eat foods in their natural state

And avoid processed foods as much as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables keep the internal plumbing working. Avoid the gravies and dressings on the table. Remove the skin from fish or chicken.
 

Don’t diet

Fad diets come and go, and often return again. But the basis for physical fitness remains constant: eat right so you can’t go wrong. The minute you put something in your mouth, ask yourself: “What is this going to do for me? Is it going to help my health? Or make me heavier?’”
 

Think young… 

When I met Jack and started getting interested in exercise, I was 27. And I thought I was old at 27. And now I’m young!
 

… and positive

When Jack swam to Alcatraz handcuffed, towing a 1,000-pound boat, to celebrate his 60th birthday, he said: “I can always see myself coming out of the water.”
 

Patience wins the race

Research shows that regular exercise by seniors may decrease the time it takes for a wound to heal by 25 per cent. I tore all the tendons in my left knee 25 years ago, my kneecap fell into my leg, but I rehabilitated. A lot of people give up because of the pain, but I was determined to get back to fitness. 
 

Have occasional treats

Treat your health account just like your bank account.  You have to earn the right to enjoy an occasional cocktail or dessert. When I got to 80, I said to Jack: “I’ve been good all these years, but if somebody has a birthday party and they offer me a piece of cake, I’m going to take it.” And he said: “Everything in moderation. It’s not what you do some of the time that counts, it’s what you do most of the time that counts.” I also drink a glass of wine every night.
 

Don’t neglect sleep

I have a lot of energy. I used to go, go, go, but now I’m watching myself. I’ll take a 15-minute rest in the afternoon.
 

Surround yourself with young people

When Jack’s buddies were passing on, he said: “You know, we gotta find younger friends.” So I think young and I act young.
 

Don’t waste time on regrets

Focus on the good decisions you made, not the bad ones. Or keep a daily log of your negative thoughts (“I hate my thighs”), then replace them with a positive one.
 

Your body is your most priceless possession

You are the priority. Out of the 1,440 minutes in the day, isn’t it wise to invest 8 minutes in yourself?