Shiela Cluff, Founder & Fitness Expert, The Oaks at Ojai

We sat down with Shiela Cluff, fitness extraordinare and owner of the Oaks at Ojai.  We were blown away by her lifestyle and her various achievements. 

Sheila Cluff, internationally-known fitness expert, owner, and founder of The Oaks at Ojai health and fitness destination spa is an  inspiration because the 74-year-old mother of four and grandmother of seven lives and looks the lifestyle she teaches. The former star and host of her own fitness shows on NBC in New York and KABC in Southern California, Cluff has touched the lives of millions.  Cluff was named “Woman of the Year” by the City of Hope Foundation. She is a founding member of the Committee of 200, an organization of preeminent businesswomen that capitalizes on the success, power and influence of women in the global economy and the first “Entrepreneur of the Year” recipient by IDEA, the world’s  largest membership organization of health and fitness professionals.  She is a former board member of the International Spa Association (ISPA) and a member of the College of Sports Medicine, Ojai Village Association, as well as Ojai Film Festival Board.  Cluff was the recipient of the ISPA Visionary Award, demonstrating her astuteness and dedication to the industry, and the Eve Award presented by the Mannequins Auxiliary of Assistance League of Southern California for her philanthropy and commitment to community outreach.  Additionally, in May 2002, SPA magazine recognized the graduate of Ottawa Teachers College as a pioneer of the American spa industry with a “Trailblazer” tribute.The former professional figure skater and high school physical education teacher is considered a fitness pioneer in the health and fitness industry among her peers. Cluff introduced “cardiovascular dance” to the world in the 1950s. Today, we know this groundbreaking exercise simply as “aerobics.” As a motivational speaker, the author of four books, producer of four fitness videos, and leader of more than 40 fitness and beauty cruises, Cluff personally helps participants attain individual power through healthful living. In addition, Cluff publishes the “Spa Update,” a newsletter with 50,000 circulation.  After four decades of great success, Cluff still makes time to teach at least five classes per week at her popular California-based fitness destination spa and know her guests by name. In 2005 after a 45 year absence, she returned to figure skating as Mrs. Santa Clause in Holiday Magic on Ice and helped raise $6400 for Ventura County Foster Children.  The past four years, Cluff competed in the Ice Skating Institute Adult Skating Championships and came in first in her age division for freestyle skating.  More recently, Cluff has become a contributing author for Recovery Magazine, a publication designed to help those in recovery from physical or emotional difficulties by extending support and encouragement.  As American Spa’s 2008 Professional’s Choice Awards called her the “Most Influential Spa Leader,” she keeps on making philanthropic efforts. Most recently, she was the keynote speaker at the Go Red for Woman Luncheon to educate women across the country about heart-disease, since Cluff has spent decades transforming people’s lives by helping them make life-altering changes by adopting an easy-to-follow philosophy that combines healthy eating with an active lifestyle.


1.       When I visited the Oaks at Ojai for a tour I was told that calories are limited to 1200 calories a day for guests. Why is this and do you feel guests lose a lot of weight with this strategy?

Some of our guests have requested that we restrict their calories, so our healthy menu consists of a healthy 1200 calories.  We use no sugar, salt or white flour, nothing processed or frozen so people feel very satisfied with our program.  In fact, they are amazed at how they can feel so full on this food plan.  However, for those who have no desire to restrict their caloric intake and are coming to us strictly for our delicious healthy food and fitness, we encourage them to exercise their options at breakfast and take in additional calories through our healthy yogurt, oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese and homemade jams and toppings.  Of course, anyone, regardless of their fitness and health goals, can take advantage of this option.  Our whole philosophy about food is that food is necessary so we focus on quality not quantity, nutritional value and taste satisfaction.  For the superb athlete or super fit individual that needs to take in more calories, we offer the athlete’s portion which can be up to a double regular portion.  Weight loss depends on how much a person desires to lose and what their percentage of body fat is to lean muscle mass.  As a rule of thumb, we do not like to see anyone lose more than 2 lbs. of true fat per week.  If a person has a high percentage of body fat (over 25%), then that fat tends to retain fluid.  Our plan helps to reduce fluid retention, so it’s not unusual to see a 6-7 lbs weight loss on the scale the first week.  However, most of that will be fluid loss.

2.       Can you tell us about the recent renovation? 

We started our historic renovation four years ago.  Our goal is to bring the entire property, with new technology, back to its original 1918 look.  We have listened to our guests who have asked for suites and mini-suites, so we have created two large courtyard suites with living rooms, fireplaces, separate bedrooms, Jacuzzi tubs and private courtyards.  Our mini-suites have Jacuzzi bathtubs, large bedrooms with queen size beds and large courtyards.  In the main building itself, we have renovated all the rooms and have added private balconies to 50% of the rooms. We also want everyone to be able to afford the Oaks, so we’ve kept six rooms with small bathrooms and twin beds for the person who is on a budget.  These two rooms have also been renovated with custom tile and other amenities.

3.       What inspired you to decide to create the Oaks at Ojai?

I started my fitness company in 1960.  At that time we developed a plan called “Wellness in the Workplace” for business and industry, educational programs for school districts, fitness aboard cruise ships and a company that took people to all the spas of Europe called “Health Holidays”.  At that time, the European spas were way ahead of the few US spas that even existed when it came to massage, facials, aromatherapy and relaxation.  However, fitness was big in the US, as was healthy eating.  So, I decided to combine the best of Europe and the best of the US and created The Oaks at Ojai.

4.       You have a reputation for helping guests lose weight. What are some of your secrets?

I ask our guests to love their own bodies; accept their body type; set realistic goals; know that if they were born 5 ft. tall, there’s no wellness program in the world that going to make them 6 ft. tall.  They are encouraged to set short term goals, i.e. six weeks walking with a buddy three times a week; once they have had success at that, add strength training, stretching and relaxation.  Other suggestions are that they make time for fitness rather than make excuses for not having the time; get a buddy with the same fitness goals; and when dining out leave 1/3 of everything on their plate or take it home with them.

5.       Do you have any recipes for the menus at the Oaks?

Yes, we have 3 cookbooks.  I would be happy to send you the latest one, Healthy Cuisine for Singles & Doubles.

6.       What is your secret to staying young and fit? 

I truly believe that fitness enriches the quality of one’s life.  Fitness has allowed me to continue to be a black diamond downhill skier.  At age 70, after a 50 year absence, I returned to competitive figure skating and compete on a national and international level.  This has brought me great joy and allowed me to raise money for various causes that I support.  I think my ego gets in the way----I love clothes and I like to look good in them.  I want to emphasize that there’s a difference between being slim and being fit.  Even though I’m a size 0-2, I’m a very strong size 0-2.

7.       What tips do you have for women in their early 80s to stay fit?

Recognize that the body changes.  If you used to be a runner, now you may need to be a walker.  If you have a little stiffening of the joints, then water exercise may be the best way for you to stay fit.  Lift weights, but not more than 10 lbs. and do it sitting on a chair rather than standing.  Walk, walk, walk.  8.

 What tips do you have for the following age groups to stay fit and healthy:

20’s  In the 20’s, decide on your favorite sport and play it on a regular basis;

30’s  Continue to play your favorite sports, but because the muscles tend to atrophy as one becomes chronologically enriched, I would suggest additional core strength training and weight training;

40’s  The 40-year-old may want to switch from running to walking.  Because you may have more financial flexibility at this point in your life, you may want to commit to joining a gym and use your gym membership.  If you have children, find a way to play and stay fit with them;

50’s    I would say the 50’s would be similar to the 40’s, but you may have the luxury of taking more vacations.  If you go on a cruise or stay in a hotel, make sure there are fitness facilities you can use.  The 50’s is a good time to add massage to your routine because we are quite often under negative stress and massage is a great stress-buster.  To prevent the development of wrinkles in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, have facials regularly and use a good sunscreen and facial moisturizer every day and night;

60’s  Really let your body dictate what it likes and if a particular movement or activity like aerobic class, spinning, jogging or running a 10K seems to consistently cause pain or stiffness, switch to a less percussive form of fitness.

70’s  Be kind to your joints---walk or ride a bicycle.  Even think about using a recumbent bicycle as it puts less stress on the joints than a Stairmaster.  Water exercise is excellent for this age group and lots of stretching to avoid stiffness. 80’s and beyond  Walking and more walking; continue your strength training, i.e. lifting weights and get lots of massages.  Tips for all ages, 20 and up, always wear a good sun block when going outside; have facials at least twice a month if you can afford it; never go to bed with makeup on; exfoliate the skin each night and moisturize it.  Pay particular attention to the face and the chest and make sure after a shower you moisturize the entire body.  Wear fashion that fits your age group and you’ll look more attractive.  Learn your body type and if you tend to be heavy in the hips focus on the upper torso with a great scarf or a piece of jewelry; if you have narrow shoulders wear shoulder pads; if you have a tiny waist capitalize on it; if you tend to be a little flat-chested wear ruffles in the upper torso or use today’s undergarments to balance your measurements.

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