Having demonstrated his strength by pulling a locomotive with his teeth, Jack LaLanne left no doubt about the benefits of his daily exercise and diet routine. LaLanne, who passed away recently at the age of 96 years young, was ahead of his time in not only promoting, but also performing and teaching proper exercise, strength and conditioning routines. While we don’t know how much LaLanne’s genes played a part in his longevity, we do know that it took hard work and commitment to gain his chiseled physique and stamina.

Much has been written about LaLanne over the years. He demonstrated his commitment to health and exercise by opening the nation’s first health and fitness center in 1936, which included a gym, juice bar and health food store. While a great idea in hindsight, he once told the New York Times that most people weren’t ready to bet on a healthy living craze.

“People thought I was a charlatan and a nut,” he told the Times. “The doctors were against me. They said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive.”

Even in his 90s, LaLanne began each day with a two-hour workout that included weight training and swimming. It’s a lesson in wellness we could all heed and one that doesn’t involve complex diets, gym equipment or pricey trainers.

As 2011 begins, many of us are vowing to start or resume a healthy living routine. Some baseline suggestions include:

  • If you smoke, commit to quitting. If you need help, see your primary care provider to discuss a plan to help you achieve success.
  • Start exercising. No matter what your age or medical history, some form of exercise is a good and healthy idea — and one that LaLanne surely recognized. Your physician will know your health status and can help recommend an exercise program that includes at least four days a week at 30 minutes each time. Try to take the time, find a friend and make it fun. If you haven’t exercised regularly, at the outset you should start slowly and gradually work up in duration of activity. Remember that your physician should be your guide.
  • Improve your diet. Try cooking meals that use fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Reduce your consumption of soda and fast food. Concentrated sweets (candies and such) should be minimized, and if you take the time to read food labels you’ll be surprised by the amount of sugar and sodium hidden in foods. Finally, be adventurous; try new recipes and healthy cuisine. Spices tend to be low in calories, sodium and have no fat, so they are good, favorable salt substitutes.
  • Avoid stress. Today, we are busier than ever, so staying stress free and living a healthy lifestyle are all the more challenging. Try participating in simple stress-reducing techniques such as yoga, reading, meditation, journaling and exercise. Reducing stress can go a long way toward fulfilling a healthy lifestyle.
  • Routine and preventative care. You are the only one who knows how you feel. You should make regular visits to your primary care provider and complete regular screenings. Heed warning signs, know what to watch for and remember to follow your physician’s advice.

While no one will recommend pulling a locomotive with your teeth, we would all do well to remember LaLanne’s oft-quoted mantra: “The only way you can hurt the body is not use it. Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it’s never too late.”