Lieutenant Columbo was never exactly a role model when it came to taking care of yourself. He smoked a cigar. He ate a lot of chili. When we see him exercise, it's pretty clear that he wasn't exactly in shape.
But if you pay attention and watch Columbo as obsessively as I have, you’ll notice that the show actually gives a lot of health tips.
So if you’re looking for health and fitness inspiration and information, yeah, crazy as it sounds, you could do worse than watch an episode or two of Columbo. I’ll show you what I mean. I've compiled a list of some (and probably not all) of the hard hitting health advice the detective (or medical?) show offers.
Today's "TV Lesson" Breakdown:
Eat more raisins
In the 1973 episode “Double Exposure,” a film projectionist named Roger White offers raisins to Columbo. “They’ll give you energy. They’re full of iron,” the projectionist says.
Columbo passes on the raisins, but interestingly enough, years later, in a 1991 episode, “Murder of a Rock Star,” Columbo has taken to eating peanut butter and raisin sandwiches. He makes a half sandwich at his desk (he uses a generic looking brand of peanut butter and a box of Sun-Maid raisins).
We see him do it again in a 1993 episode, “It’s All in the Game.”
"You've already got raisins on that sandwich. You're going to put jam on it?" a landlord asks, when Columbo is questioning him about a murdered tenant.
"You've never had it that way?" Columbo asks, a touch surprised.
"No, and if there's a God, I never will."
My theory? Since the film projectionist in "Double Exposure" was later murdered in the episode, maybe the raisin conversation stuck with Columbo and haunted him for years, and so he did some investigatory work on the merits of the shriveled up fruit. He eats raisins as something of a tribute to Roger.
It's just a theory.
In any case, the film projectionist and Columbo are right to tout raisins as a healthy snack. Don't take Roger's word for it, or mine, or even Columbo's. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s website, raisins are full of iron.
Follow Columbo's lead and eat hard boiled eggs
He snacks on them in a number of episodes. He comes to a case, often in the early morning or middle of the night, and he goes around the crime scene, looking for an appropriate place to crack the shell. He even carries a shaker of salt in his coat pocket in “Lovely but Lethal.”
Maybe Columbo just likes eggs, but they are a healthy snack and meal. WebMD.com is a fan of hard boiled eggs, pointing out that they’re an excellent source of lean protein: “They’ll fill you up without packing in too many calories, which is helpful if you want to lose weight.”
WebMD.com also states that hard boiled eggs increase your “mental energy… The combination of healthy elements like protein and choline in hard-boiled eggs helps to get your brain going, especially just after breakfast.”
Sounds like what any police detective would want and need.
Stay away from carbohydrates
In the second season of Columbo, in the episode, “The Greenhouse Jungle,” the detective is questioning a friend of the victim named Gloria West (played by Arlene Martel).
Columbo asks about the victim and whether he might have done something shady, and Ms. West responds with, “Look, I said he wasn't a very strong person, but then, who is? Look at me. I eat carbohydrates all the time.”
Every time I’ve seen that episode (too many times), I’ve found that line of dialogue interesting. We knew carbs were something to stay away from back in 1972? I guess I didn't think people were staying away from carbs back then because, you know, every several years, it seems, somebody makes a big deal in the news out of carbohydrates, and you start thinking that this is new health information. At least that's what happened to me. I assumed we realized carbohydrates were bad in maybe the 1990s or 1980s.
Well, no. Back in the 1860s, William Banting, a British undertaker who lost a lot of weight after cutting back on carbohydrates, was pushing a low carb diet on the public. But in 1972, when this particular Columbo episode aired, the book, "Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution" had just been published, and that was a blockbuster seller, in which it was advised that people at fewer carbs and more foods high in protein and fat.
That was likely on Gloria West's mind. As well as the minds of Stephen J. Cannell, Richard Levinson and William Link, the writers credited for the script.
OK, you probably don’t need a Columbo episode to tell you that.
Lieutenant Columbo, unwisely, was a cigar smoker – and so was actor Peter Falk -- but at least the series did make it emphatically clear that he was taking a chance with his health. For instance, in “Blueprint for Murder,” Columbo puts a cigar in his mouth after questioning a non-suspect physician, who also gives him an impromptu checkup.
And then Columbo asks if the doctor has a light.
“You won’t find one here, Lieutenant,” the doctor says, perturbed. “And let me give you some free medical advice – stop smoking those things!”
“Well, I’ve been trying,” Columbo says, meekly.
The doctor won’t have any of that. “Trying isn’t good enough. Remember, I deal in pacemakers!”
Two murderers in the Columbo movies, it should be noted, tampered with, and poisoned, cigarettes, as a method of finishing off their victims. It's true -- smoking kills.
Exercise regularly and have a fitness mindset
In the episode, “An Exercise in Fatality,” there are a lot of health tips to be had. Here are the most relevant ones.
- According to Milo Janus’s book, The Milo Janus Guide to Health and Fitness (a terrific book, Columbo the book reviewer raves to Milo), strenuous exercise after you eat is very bad. Good to know.
- Exercise releases endorphins that make people feel euphoric. Now, the TV episode doesn’t mention that, but clearly, that’s what happened to Columbo after exercising on a treadmill for 20 minutes. “It’s a whole different attitude,” he says, of his new mindset. “I mean, I believe that this is gonna make a new man out of me. I’m skipping beer, giving up the cigars, no more chili…” (That doesn’t happen in future episodes, but it’s arguably excellent fitness and nutritional advice.)
- We learn that Mrs. Columbo has been on a health kick lately, eating soybeans and wheat germ. Soybeans are an excellent source of protein, according to, once again, the Cleveland Clinic. Wheat germ has a lot of dietary fiber, can help boost your immune system and has a lot of minerals, according to WebMD.com.
- Milo Janus, who murders a guy and then makes it look like the guy was lifting weights and had a heart attack, mentions that it’s never safe to work out heavily without proper supervision. Sound advice.
- Breakfast of champions? According to Milo Janus and how he has the first meal of the day, we should all swallow three pills that are apparently vitamins – and some juice. It seems like one could do a little better with a breakfast than that. Incidentally, Milo offers a beverage to Columbo, who tastes it and remarks, “Say, there’s something wrong with your orange juice.” “It’s carrot juice, Lieutenant,” Janus says. “Oh,” Columbo says, looking sorely disappointed.
- Milo Janus may have been a cold-blooded murderer, but he was in terrific shape. As he told Columbo, who admired his physical prowess, and the TV audience, “Anybody can do it, if they’re willing to put some effort into it. Fresh air, exercise, proper diet. That’s the key to good health and long life.”
See, easy peasy? On that last tip, I’m betting that any of you out there, who feel like you’re not in top physical condition, will read that quote, and now that you know the secret to good health, your life will be transformed for the better.
And, you’re welcome! That’s what The TV Professor is all about – finding out what we can learn through the magic of TV. And now we’ve done it -- with the help Milo Janus. We’ve solved America’s obesity crisis and health problems!
So, what we can fix next?
Er, sorry, okay, I probably got a little ahead of myself. Maybe better health isn't quite that simple. But, still, the message is clear. Along with an annual physical and trying to eat better and exercise more, I think any doctor would be happy to diagnose watching more Columbo.
Where you can watch Columbo (at the time of this writing): You can find the entire series of Columbo on TubiTV.com and on Peacock TV. MeTV, the classic TV cable channel, also airs Columbo Sunday evenings at 6 p.m., EST.
Articles similar to this Columbo one: Well, you might enjoy another Columbo blog post, which is about “An Exercise in Fatality,” but it focuses on the history of gym franchises (I promise, it’s more interesting than it sounds… I think).
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