Sunday, April 15, 2012
SHAPE UP WITH NANCY LARSON: SHE PRAYS FOR YOUR GOOD HEALTH
SHAPE UP WITH NANCY LARSON: SHE PRAYS FOR YOUR GOOD HEALTH
Nancy Larson wants you to shape up! She’ll encourage you, prod you, teach you and even pray for you. And by the end of her show, you’ll feel better physically, mentally, and probably even spiritually. She has faith in you!
This internationally-known born-again TV host from the 80’s led viewers through a demanding yet fun exercise routine called Shape Up With Nancy Larson. The out of production show originated from a Christian TV channel from Chicago. It was eventually syndicated, reaching as far as northern Israel.
Modestly dressed in a leotard usually covered with shorts, Nancy stretched, bended and twisted to catchy music designed to get couch-potatoes moving. The homey set featured a living room and a little kitchen table, where Nancy often shared healthy recipes to inspire viewers to actually do something to take charge of their overall health and eating habits.
I’m writing about Nancy because believe it or not, I often get hits on my blog for people searching for information about her. At least several times a month, my “search engine terms” stats show people typing in various combinations involving her name and program. My blog shows up in search engines because of a recipe for zucchini pie that I attributed to Nancy years ago in conjunction with my low-carb Somersize weight loss story.
And so I thought I’d write an official blog featuring everything I know about Nancy—which actually isn’t very much! There is limited information about her online, which is why my site always comes up. But it is intriguing to know that after all these years, people still remember her and want to know what happened to her!
I know probably as much as anybody else and what they have found online. I did see that someone posted on a message board that they heard she developed “an aggressive form of breast cancer and stopped doing her shows.” But I cannot confirm this. I have no idea if she’s even alive.
From what I remember and have also found online, she originally started doing the show after an old knee injury began acting up. She had been teaching exercise classes at her church, and while praying that the knee would be healed, she felt compelled by God to do an exercise program on television. She approached WCHC-TV, Chicago’s Christian station, where she began taping the half-hour show in 1980. One of the few exercise shows at the time, it was soon distributed to other Christian stations in the US and Canada, and was a big hit in the north of Israel. Nancy visited the country and soldiers even stopped her on the street to ask for her autograph.
“It was the best exercise program ever,” said one person who had posted on an Internet message board a few years ago. She was looking for a copy of the video that Nancy used to sell on her show. Another person posted somewhere that she wanted tapes of Nancy’s daily show. “They were great and a good workout,” she wrote. “I had taped some of them but the tapes have gotten old and you can hardly see anything on them. Just wondering if there were any copies of the shows out there that could be purchased.” I don’t know if these women ever found any tapes, but I have several of her shows from 1983 and 1984 on VHS recorded years ago, and was lucky enough to find a copy of Nancy’s official video on eBay.
On her daily program, Nancy often read letters from viewers praising her for helping them improve their lives.
“You have changed my days from boring to energy”, Nancy read on one episode. “I look forward to you each morning. Since I have watched you, I have been so much more flexible and I try not to ever miss a day.”
Nancy read another lead from a viewer named Jean: “Everything you say in your show is the truth, but the most important thing you say is to ask God for our strength every day. When I did that, that’s when my life started to change for the better. You and your show have helped me so much mentally and physically that I have been telling everyone. After all, I am living proof that it works.”
Nancy agrees that she herself is “living proof” as well. “When we ask God for strength and when we ask God to lead our life, when we give Him our day, He is going to give us in return his peace and his joy and his guidance and his direction in your life,” she said in response to the letter. “Some of you have turmoil in your life, and you don’t know which way to turn, and you have no peace. Then I would suggest that you ask Jesus Christ to come into your life. He will give you peace you’ve never had before. He will change your life. And that’s what Jean was talking about. When she did that, her whole life started to change. And mine did about ten years ago. My life has never been the same. And I would never, ever want to go back to the way I lived before.”
I love hearing her words of encouragement, and her uplifting, Christian messages. (Although after being on the Internet, I now can’t help but wonder if she was one of those who would put down Mormons; I guess I’ll never know). Nancy tells viewers that “Jesus cares for you” and often prayed that God would strengthen their bodies and help them to develop a personal relationship with the Savior. “We were made for one reason, created by God to fellowship with his son, and if you’re not fellowshipping with God, knowing Jesus Christ as your lord and your savior, you’re empty inside. That’s how I was about ten years ago. I had everything you could possibly want in life materially, but I was empty. I had a wonderful husband and two beautiful children, but I was empty inside of me until I asked Jesus Christ into my heart and into my life,” she said.
Nancy always stressed that God wants us to look good and be healthy.
“It’s not vanity to take care of yourself. It’s not vanity to want to look nice and get the weight off. That’s not what vanity is. God cares about that and he’s concerned about you and also your body.”
It is obvious that the 40-ish Nancy took care of herself. She was quite slender with short, dark hair. Watching her twist and bend, one can’t help but be impressed with her flexibility. She had an equally svelte teenage daughter Amy who often exercised with her, and an older son who I never saw but whose picture was displayed on a shelf at the back of the set. Even her husband sometimes popped in for a visit (although I don’t think he exercised with her), and he and Amy were featured in the show’s opening scenes.
On my tapes, with snazzy theme music playing, we see Nancy and her husband biking, playing tennis and walking, as well as Nancy doing jumping jacks and buying grapes (although not at the same time!). There is also a shot of her with a friend at the mall, where they almost take the escalator but go up the stairs instead. The next season’s opening is a bit different with Nancy leading an exercise class, eating at a restaurant with a friend, and with her husband and daughter walking the dog in the woods, riding bikes and flying a kite. We also see the nicely-dressed and smiling Nancy pouring orange juice as her husband and daughter sit at the morning breakfast table (something you would never see at my house!). The announcer says “Welcome to Shape Up, with your hostess, Nancy Larson,” and there she is, ready to exercise, or at the table reading letters from viewers or offering a healthy recipe before the warm-up.
“I have recipes on from time to time because I get so many requests for them,” she says. “God said you are the temple of my spirit, and you’re defiling the temple with what you are eating. Now is the time to start. Get the bad food out of your house, and get what is good in your house. Begin to pray, ‘God, replace my ungodly appetite’ and you’re going to see a change in your life.”
And then we get to the workout portion of the show. “If you’re pregnant or have any physical problem, check with your doctor first,” she cautions. “So come on, get off the sofa today and join me. You’re gonna stretch, you’re gonna bend, you’re gonna tone those muscles, and you’re going to feel better than you ever had. You’re going to think better, you’re going to feel better physically, and your whole attitude really changes because you have taken time to exercise. You’re special. You deserve it.”
And after hearing something like that, how can anyone just sit there like a lump? So off the couch it is, where we do a warm-up consisting of jumping jacks, reaching from side to side, the “fold” where you reach up and bend down, and the lunge. She takes a quick break at this point, telling viewers to get a sturdy chair or a mat, while they run an ad for her mail order exercise cassette. Then there are more exercises, followed by a cool down.
“You’re not going to be more tired when you exercise,” Nancy notes. “That’s a fallacy. You’re going to have more energy because your heart begins to pump, and you’ve got oxygen and blood just pulsating through your body to every cell and fiber of your being. And you need that for vitality.”
One interesting tidbit I found online about Shape Up was where someone wrote, “If you love your back, don’t do this workout.” The author said exercises Nancy performed such as straight-backed bounces and holding three-pound weights out to the side in either hand can be a “recipe for spinal disaster.” And yes, I found that out the hard way.
At the end of each show, Nancy reveals more words of wisdom and encouragement, or goes over a recipe again. On one of my tapes she even gives instructions for a homemade exercise mat. And then there are her pleas to our Maker. ”Lord, give us strength to make it through this day,” she prays, closing her eyes and clasping her hands. “Father, we need strength physically and we need strength in our mind and we need strength in our spirit. We need peace that only comes from you, Jesus. I pray for every person that you would touch their lives.”
Exercise can relieve stress, Nancy admonishes, but if we want peace, we have to have Christ in our lives. “I pray that you would ask Him to come in; if you have turmoil and you’re upset, and he’ll give you peace that the world can’t give you. If we’ve asked God to come into our life, if we’ve asked Jesus Christ to be our own personal savior, God has come in to dwell within our bodies. And it’s your responsibility to take care of that body God has given to you. That’s what Shape Up is all about. We want to get our bodies in shape for Jesus.”