- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2001

Even fitness expert Denise Austin dreads tugging on her leotard sometimes.But she has been donning leotards, in front of a national audience, no less, for nearly two decades to point America toward a more fit future.
If only the rest of us looked as good in spandex.
The Alexandria resident broke into the business in 1981 as a co-host with fitness pioneer Jack La Lannes TV program. Today, Mrs. Austin serves as host to a pair of exercise shows and produces dozens of fitness books, video tapes and workout gear to help shape up and motivate her audience.
Mrs. Austin, 44, says her core advice hasnt changed over the years.
"The same things still apply," says Mrs. Austin, a walking — make that running, bouncing and stretching — advertisement for the effects of a fit lifestyle. "Theres only so many ways to firm up and eat right. There is no magic pill."
"Denise Austins Fit & Lite," a holistic health, exercise and yoga program, along with "Denise Austins Daily Workout," air weekday mornings on the Lifetime cable network.
"People think to get in shape takes too long," she says, adding that half an hour a day is all a person needs.
Her perennially perky demeanor, on and off the set, may not motivate gym rats itching for a no-pain, no-gain mantra.
But if healthy TV ratings and a growing array of fitness products are any indication, plenty find Mrs. Austins musings to be their preferred tonic for health and fitness.
Perhaps part of her appeal lies beyond her large blue eyes and California-style tan.
Sure, her stomach is as rock-hard as one might expect, but she also is a married mother of two who, in person, doesnt emit the kind of aura one might expect.
Shes approachable. Her voice is pleasantly husky.
She even — gasp — admits to ordering an occasional hamburger when she eats out.
Wearing a midriff-revealing white tank top and bicycle shorts, Mrs. Austin says her childhood didnt specifically prepare her for her field.
"We ate well. Meals were our joy and our passion," she says of family dinnertime.
Her youthful predilection for gymnastics, though, led to a full athletic scholarship at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she studied exercise physiology.
She began helping companies set up exercise programs after college but dreamed of playing a larger role in helping people get fit.
In 1981, she ran into Mr. La Lanne at a dinner and asked to be on his show. Soon, she was his co-host, a role that led to her own exercise show on Los Angeles KABC-TV, "Day Break With Denise," a precursor to her current Lifetime gig.
She married Jeff Austin, a sports attorney and brother of tennis star Tracy Austin, and moved to Washington in 1983. The couple quickly settled in Alexandria, where she has lived with her husband and daughters Kelly and Katie ever since.
After moving eastward, she turned her sights on NBCs "The Today Show," pelting its producers with phone calls to pitch her idea for a regular fitness segment.
"I never took no for an answer," says Mrs. Austin, who landed the assignment.
When the ESPN all-sports network emerged, she suggested hosting a fitness show set in exotic locales, not a stuffy studio.
"Every week, you could trim and travel with me," she says.
It took two years of persuading, but, eventually, the network bought the concept. The show later moved to Lifetime.
With no formal business training, she transformed herself into a one-woman fitness industry that shows no sign of ebbing.
Take that, Jane Fonda.
She didnt even flinch when she entered her 40s, an age that could have meant a reduced role in a profession that demands a toned physique.
She covers that topic in her new book, "Fit and Fabulous After 40," and a video tape of the same name, one of more than 30 tapes to her credit. The book covers the expected topics but also shares her wisdom on self-tanners, exfoliants, moisturizers and healthy face masks.
These days, she focuses more on toning exercises to keep youthful, illustrated by the muscles that shimmer under her deeply tanned skin.
"As we age, we lose our muscle tone. Thats how we gain weight," she says. Since turning 40, she has reduced her intake of red meat while piling fish and soy products onto her familys plates.
With exercise time at a premium, Mrs. Austin squeezes in her workouts between chores. She does push-ups during TV commercial breaks and flexes her gluteus maximus muscles while on the phone.
To research her new book, she interviewed medical experts but also tapped her female friends to learn what issues they wanted to know more about.
"Theyre happier with themselves in their 40s and 50s," she says of the women she meets. "Theyre not obsessed with body image" and typically dont have young children to raise.
Jolie Glass, director of the Womens Exercise Research Center at the George Washington University Medical Center, says women who are 40 and older should be patient when beginning a new routine.
"Preventing injuries is the biggest thing to worry about," Mrs. Glass says, since many women start new workout programs too aggressively. "Your body doesnt seem to be able to handle that like it could in your 20s."
As women pass 40, "medical problems begin to creep up," says Mrs. Glass, such as bone density loss, high blood pressure and arthritis.
She advises older women to warm up and stretch before a workout and begin very slowly, in aerobic bursts of no more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
"You have the rest of your life to exercise. Theres no hurry," she says.
Dont tell that to Mrs. Austin, who, if shes not on Lifetime, can be seen on the QVC shopping channel or other stations pitching her products.
Mrs. Austins home is equipped with an elegant workout studio, awash in natural light. Still, she prefers to jog around her Alexandria neighborhood with a rotating group of exercise partners.
In public, she attracts viewers whose lives her fitness regimes have touched. Husbands will approach her in airports to thank her for helping their wives get through their pregnancies or return to their youthful figures.
"They feel like Im their best friend," she says of her viewers. "Im on every day for them.
"They say all my lines to me," she says with a laugh.
Mrs. Austin still keeps in contact with Mr. La Lanne, now 87, one of her original mentors. Like the fitness legend, she says she is at ease with the passage of time.
"Im growing old with the audience," she says.
That doesnt mean shell take the years without a fight. Nor does she want her audience to give up.
"Now we all know 50 percent of aging is up to your lifestyle," she says. "Thats where I come in."


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