This fitness icon has been on the move, physically and professionally, for more than 30 years. Here, she dishes on her latest projects, plus the secrets behind her famous physique.
It’s been nearly three decades since Denise Austin burst onto the VHS scene sporting yellow sneakers and a midriff-exposing, cut-out purple leotard. But the high-octane star of the ’80s-workout world is still turning heads—and cartwheels (!)—at age 57. “I still have great energy,” says the best-selling-video queen and wellness author, whose latest DVD, “Denise Austin: Yoga Booty Lift,” hit stores in September. “I can still do handstands and cartwheels. It comes from staying fit for years. It does pay off!”
Keeping up with her two college-age daughters seems like a snap, but time is still of the essence, as the media maven runs a growing business empire that now includes a line of workout equipment called Denise Austin: Forever Fit!. Even so, Austin is quick to add that exercise and healthy eating can be squeezed into a busy schedule. “I’m a big believer in 30 minutes,” she says. “Most people don’t have an hour. If you could get your heart rate up for 30 minutes doing some form of cardio—such as walking or spinning—you will burn fat. You will see a huge difference.” And if you have only 20 minutes? “Yoga Booty Lift” to the rescue! “So many women were writing to me, saying, ‘I just want to start yoga, but all these programs seem so hard.’ So I created a beginner’s yoga DVD with two different 20-minute workouts. I swear you feel so good once you’re done.”
When it comes to nutritious, home-cooked meals, Austin has a recipe for success here as well. “I can cook a healthy meal in 20 minutes,” she says with gusto. Some of these dishes she shared in her 2013 book, “Side Effect: Skinny.” Others she will serve up on camera, starting this December, for a video- and tip-filled relaunch of her official website, DeniseAustin.com. “I’m excited to teach people ways to whip up their favorite smoothies and enjoy different workouts. I’m all about trying to help people be happy and fit.”
wb | What’s the key takeaway from “Side Effect: Skinny”?
da | The key is that there are certain foods that give you good side effects—including getting a little trimmer and a little thinner and feeling energized and confident. Everyone talks about terrible side effects when it comes to drugs, but there are so many positive side effects when you’re eating the right foods. For instance, carrots help keep your eyes healthy, and the lutein in tomatoes is so good for your heart. And there are some great recipes in the book, such as chicken lettuce wraps and flatbread pizza.
wb | Why is it important to rethink skinny in a healthy light?
da | I never liked the word “skinny,” because I would think, Oh, God, that implies someone starving themselves. And I’m a true believer, of course, in eating healthy while keeping up your cardio and strength training. So this [take on skinny] is a vision to help someone feel better and more confident. But I’m not talking about being a skinny minny.
wb | What are some simple ways to stock a healthy kitchen?
da | When you open up the refrigerator, the things at eye level are what your eye is going to see first—and that’s probably what you’re going to reach for. Usually, you hide the fresh vegetables. But I pull them out [of the crispers] and put them in clear containers so I can see them and the other healthiest foods first. But how you shop is important, too. It’s safest to shop the perimeter of the grocery store—the fruits and veggies, the dairy, the meats. I now buy grass-fed meat.
wb | You recently tweeted, “Cook once, eat twice.” In what ways does this approach help you?
da | I’m a mom and I love to make my kids great meals. And I love food. So I try to prepare things on Sundays so the week goes smoothly and I avoid eating junk. I chop a lot of veggies. I also boil eggs to have throughout the week and chop them up with some tuna for a quick, on-the-go snack. I barbeque a bunch of chicken, then slice and store it in containers for use in different meals. It’s quick and easy. And I use a lot of beans now—they’re a great source of fiber. I like to put them in salads and chili.
wb | What’s your family’s favorite 20-minute healthy meal?
da | Chicken with sage and rosemary. I bake it in the oven with a little crumbled goat cheese. Then I’ll serve it with a salad and roasted asparagus, drizzled with olive oil and topped with minced garlic and red pepper strips. The kids love that. The sage and rosemary smell so good in the house, too.
wb | What are some quick toning exercises that target “droopy” areas?
da | Two areas that most people underuse as they age are the butt and the back of the arms. Two of the best exercises, then, are the butt tap and the triceps chair dip. For the butt tap, you stand with your arms reaching forward at chest level, and then you sit back as if you’re touching—or butt-tapping—[the seat] of your chair. Then you push up [using your legs]. It really works! With the triceps chair dip, you’re using your body weight, but you don’t have to dip too far. Some people go too far and they hurt their shoulders, so just go down a little. The pressing up is what’s really going to firm your triceps. You can do these while watching TV, in the office, at the park—anywhere.
wb | Any other easy solutions for those feeling confined by their environment?
da | Simple isometric exercises work, too. Pulling in and tightening up your tummy for five seconds is equal to one situp. You can do it in the car. And squeezing and tightening your butt for five seconds gets your circulation going, especially if you’re sitting for long periods of time. Because of our [sedentary] lifestyles, we need to find ways to maintain good posture at work. You are your own architect, so the way you sit and stand will shape your body and your look, as well as your health.
wb | Which compound exercises help melt fat fast?
da | Working all the major muscle groups, as many as you can at once, can make a big difference in a small amount of time. In six minutes you can do six different intervals, which really jump-starts your metabolism. I love split lunges. You’re jumping up and down, using your legs and getting your heart rate up. And if you do them with your arms, thrusting with some dumbbells, you’re also working your upper body. My other favorite is a torso twist [combined with] a lunge: As you lunge forward, you twist to the opposite side. You’re doing double the workout in half the time.
wb | What three fitness aids are essential for beginners?
da | A set of 3- or 5-lb dumbbells are like gold. They help you create more tone and strength. A pedometer is a very inexpensive way to stay motivated. And I love a mat because when I see it, I think, I’ve got no excuse but to get down and exercise.
Denise’s Healthy Favorites
Snacks: Dried fruit with different types of nuts, so you get a variety of nutrients, such as the omega-3s in walnuts. Supplements: Every single day I take a multi, omega-3s and a probiotic. I’m also a big believer in vitamin C, and I take vitamin D3 for my bones and my entire body. Outdoor exercises: I hike with girlfriends and go on bike rides. I like fresh-air exercise. It feels good. Yoga pose: The warrior. If you sit for long periods of time, your hips get very tight, and this pose opens them up. Halloween treat: I make really good pumpkin bread with a can of real pumpkin. Mantra: My whole career I’ve always said, “You can do it. You deserve to look and feel your best.”