Elaine LaLanne’s morning exercises often begin before she’s even out of bed. Lying on top of the covers, she does two-dozen jackknifes. At the bathroom sink, she does incline push-ups. After she dresses and applies her makeup, she heads to her home gym, where she walks uphill on a treadmill for a few minutes and does lat pull-downs on a machine.
“Twenty minutes a day gets me on my way,” she said at her home on the Central Coast of California.
But her biggest daily feat of strength, she says, happens above her shoulders. At 97 years old, Ms. LaLanne reminds herself each morning, “You have to believe you can.” She said that belief had not only kept her physically active through injuries and emotional obstacles, it had also helped her to live the life of someone decades younger. “Everything starts in the mind,” she said.
Ms. LaLanne’s habit of speaking in aphorisms (“It’s not a problem, it’s an experience”; “You do the best you can with the equipment you have”) is a product of a lifetime of trying to inspire people to move more and better themselves. For nearly six decades, she was both wife and business partner to the television personality Jack LaLanne, who is widely considered the father of the modern fitness movement, and whose exercise show ran for 34 years, from 1951 to 1985.
“She was the guiding force behind Jack,” said Rick Hersh, Ms. LaLanne’s talent agent for more than 40 years.
While Jack was a natural showman — he rose to fame performing acrobatics on Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach in the 1930s — Elaine preferred to work behind the scenes, supporting him and managing their sprawling entertainment and entrepreneurial empire, which included not only a TV show but dozens of fitness gadgets, food