Location: Alexandria, VA
Marital Status: Married
Education: B.A. in Physical Education with an emphasis in exercise physiology from University of Arizona
In 1980, “right when exercise was becoming popular,” a 23-year old, just-graduated, bubbly gymnastics athlete named Denise Katnich began teaching aerobics at Los Angeles racquetball courts. “There weren’t gyms or workout studios at the time, so I would rent out courts and teach aerobics with my little boom box,” says Denise. Fast forward three decades, that radiant fitness teacher from California, now known as Denise Austin, is a household name.
She had her big break as the first fitness expert on NBC’s Today Show in the 80s, a 10-year show on ESPN in the 90s, followed by 13 years on Lifetime television, all the while racking up the sale of 23 million exercise DVDs.
This month, Denise’s schedule is enough to exhaust any FabUnderFifty. She just launched her first iPhone/iPad app, announced a partnership with Smucker’s, is putting out two new DVDs, and will return to Lifetime Television, on the daily morning show, The Balancing Act. But, Denise isn’t slowing down. Her new book Get Energy! Empower Your Body, Love Your Life, reveals mini lifestyle changes that she swears will increase your energy. And the glowing reviews are already pouring in: “Denise Austin makes the Energizer Bunny look lethargic,” wrote the editors at People magazine.
You’re so busy I’m glad you had a chance to talk to us!
Thanks. It’s an important time of year because everyone wants a jump start on their New Years Resolutions, especially fitness and losing weight.
Where do you live?
I live in D.C. but I was born and raised in Southern California. I go home all the time because my whole family still lives there. I moved here to D.C. twenty years ago for my husband’s job. He’s a sports attorney in D.C. I love it because I can travel easily. I can get to New York and all the East Coast cities so quickly.
p class=”question”>Do you have children?
I have two teenage girls and they’re both athletes. My oldest is 19 and playing lacrosse in college. My youngest is 16 and plays high school tennis and lacrosse. I try to work out my own career and travel around all their games so that either me, my husband or both of us are there.
That’s great that your children are so athletic too. Were you athletic when you were younger?
As a young girl I was a gymnast. I practiced 3 to 4 hours every single day. By the age of 12, I was traveling all over the country and competing. I took it very seriously and earned a full athletic scholarship to the University of Arizona where I competed as an NCAA athlete. Truly, gymnastics gave me my foundation for what I do today with fitness.
Was your family always supportive?
I’m one of five kids. We were very middle class. My mom was always really busy working two jobs but she took good care of us and had a hot meal on the table each day. She was an amazing role model. She was always very happy and as a result all five of us are very upbeat and positive. Now, as a Mom, myself, I always keep positive.
How did you get into teaching fitness?
In college, I majored in physical education with an emphasis in exercise physiology. After college, in 1980, I started teaching aerobics in Los Angeles right when exercise was becoming popular.
What was your first big break into television?
One night in 1981, I came to Washington D.C. to attend a conference on fitness for the President’s Council and I met Jack LaLanne. He was my idol because he had a fitness television show that even my mom watched. I said to him, “Jack, I love you! Can I be on your TV show? I can do handstands and push-ups with you.” And he said, “Absolutely.” I called him up when I went back to California and he let me be on his show as a guest. He liked me so much that I became his co-host.
Is Jack LaLanne your mentor?
He gave me my first start on television. Next month marks 30 years that I’ve been in the fitness industry. I still credit him for everything I am now. I just talked to him last month for his 96th birthday. He’s totally fit and still works out every day. He’s a great role model for everybody but especially for older people. He makes us realize we can improve upon our health no matter how old we are through exercise and eating right.
You’ve been on television for almost three decades. Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
I think it’s because I really listen to my fans. I’ll say, “Okay what’s my next DVD or segment? What do you guys want? Yoga? Pilates? Fat burning?” And I get answers instantly. I get the beat from New York to Los Angeles and all the cities in between. I try to be on the cutting edge in fitness.
Why do you think people trust you?
I research everything. I’ve been on the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and Sports for close to 20 years. I have wonderful nutritionists, scientists and doctors that I consult from the Mayo Clinic to the Cooper Clinic. I’m able to tap into the great minds of health and fitness and bring it to Middle America.
Another thing is I’m 100% natural. I’ve been pregnant on television. I’ve gotten into a leotard and shown my tummy within six weeks of delivering both babies to show that you can do it, at any stage of your life.
How do you like this stage of your life?
I’m 53 and still fit and my career is booming more than ever. It’s fun to know you can be fab after 50, even in your career.
What are you working on now?
My book, Get Energy! Empower Your Body, Love Your Life is about to come out. At the same time my book comes out I’m also doing a huge live exercise class on the Smuckers Natural Peanut Butter website, Naturally Powered By You on January 12. I have a new TV show starting January 3rd on Lifetime Television and two new DVDs coming out: “Quick Burn Cardio” and “Shrink Your Fat Cells.” I also am updating my website, http://www.deniseaustin.com and just came out with a iPhone and iPad app. You pick a body part, then get 10-20 different exercises. It also has recipes of the day, “get energy” tips and “Denisiology,” such as “If you rest, you rust.”
Whew, that’s a lot. How do you unwind?
A massage is my favorite thing in life. That’s a true indulgence. There’s a woman in Alexandria, Virginia named Olga of Olga Massage Therapy. She’s so good that she’s booked all of the time.
What’s your own fitness routine?
I change my routines constantly. I think that’s what keeps me fresh. My current one, which I did this morning is with lightweights. I use them for momentum and to increase my workout. I do a lot of interval training. I love to do three minutes of cardio on a treadmill or an aerobic routine, then do two minutes of conditioning with weights then go right back to cardio. I really try to make the 30 minutes I do every day very effective and efficient because I don’t have a lot of time.
Who motivates you to work out?
I work out some mornings with my husband, before our daughters wake up. He played professional tennis and is into fitness too. Sometimes, I’ll invite girlfriends over and we do a little Pilates, lightweights or go for long walks. Each Sunday I organize my week. I call all my girlfriends to find out who’s in town and line up my workout schedule with them. For instance, I walk with Susan on Mondays. If I’m in California, I workout with my sisters.
That’s a great idea, most people think of catching up with a friend or sister over dinner or drinks…
I do it during the day when my kids are at school. I workout with my friends so I can’t get out of it. Even as a fitness expert, I need motivators. Music is another big motivator for me.
What kind of music do you like?
I’m so eclectic. On my iPod you’ll see everything from Miranda Lambert “The House That Built Me” to a Madonna song to a Bruce Springsteen song to Black Eyed Peas to Katy Perry.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in D.C.?
I love restaurants. But, in order to eat the way I want to eat, I have to exercise. I like a restaurant called Chez Geoff and I like Restaurant Eve in Alexandria because they have such fresh food and really good bread. I love really good restaurant bread and butter.
Do you diet or do you just workout and eat the way you want?
I eat well 80% of the time and have my treats 20% of the time. I cook a lot so I know what I’m putting into my food. I try to have a sit down dinner with my family 4-5 times a week.
How would you describe your style?
Kicky—kind of fun. Everyone in D.C. is very conservative with their clothes. I like to be a little out of the box. I dress appropriately for my age but I do borrow my daughter’s clothes sometimes. In fact, I just gave a speech and wore my 19-year-old Kelly’s really cute black, lacy dress.
Favorite designer or store?
I love a place called LF in California. They have comfortable clothes with a little touch of edginess. The guy who owns it is a Brit. He brings a little fun, English style to the store. I also go to Saks in Chevy Chase, Maryland because they have a great shoe department.
Do you have a passion project?
Child obesity. I’ve been to 32 states in the last 14 years making sure getting kids get more active. I’ve also done work with the American Heart Association to promote cardiovascular health. Heart disease is number one killer and it its lifestyle driven.
What’s your advice for women over fifty?
The best thing about being 50 is you feel so comfortable in your own shoes. But, the most important thing is to pay attention to your health. Firm up those muscles. Muscles work miracles on our metabolisms. Ten minutes of exercise here and ten minutes there will keep you from drooping and sagging.