The fitness icon, Jack LaLanne, died last week at the age of 96. Healthy and active until the very end, he was a powerful example of the role that exercise and nutrition can play in elevating a life. Jack lived long and vibrantly, and inspired millions of people to make positive health choices.
Jack’s death reminded me of the life and untimely death of another fitness icon of the 20th century, Jim Fixx. Jim’s books were wildly popular, and his work was credited for helping start the tness revolution in the Western world. But while Jim shared with Jack a passion for the health-giving benefits of exercise, these men differed on a crucial point: Jim believed that exercise was key, and that diet and nutrition played a far smaller part in health.
Like Jack LaLanne, Jim Fixx was unhealthy in the early part of his life. Up until his mid-thirties, he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, loved his burgers and shakes, and weighed 220 pounds. At age 35, he stopped smoking and began running. Within a short time he was running 80 miles a week, racing marathons, and had lost all his excess weight. His belief in the healing powers of running was tremendous. In his bestselling book, The Complete Book of Running, Fixx repeatedly quoted Thomas J. Bassler, M.D., a California pathologist who was then advancing the theory that marathon runners actually develop a sort of immunity from heart disease. Fixx repeatedly quoted Bassler’s assertion that any nonsmoker t enough to run a complete marathon in under four hours would, regardless of his or her diet, never suffer a fatal heart attack.
Jim Fixx thought that a healthy diet wasn’t that important. He believed that if you don’t smoke and if you exercise sufficiently, you are protected against heart disease.
Fixx knew that his father had died of a heart attack at age 43. But he believed that exercise (and the improved circulation it generates) would be an adequate defense. He thought that as long as he ran daily and didn’t smoke, he would stay healthy and avoid his father’s fate.
Jim didn’t just ignore expert advice that he needed to eat more healthfully.
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