Stay on track with New Year’s resolutions by following proven tactics from one of the country’s most popular fitness experts.
At 5′ 4″ and 120 pounds, Denise Austin may seem an unlikely powerhouse. But with her trademark enthusiasm and unbridled optimism, the diminutive dynamo has inspired millions to get up and get moving, earning her the reputation as “America’s favorite fitness expert.”
Austin’s philosophy is simple. For more than 25 years, she has promoted a sensible, realistic, and positive approach to achieving robust good health.
“I’m 50 and work out 30 minutes almost every day,” says the busy mom, business executive, and wife. “I love motivating people to achieve their goals — it’s all positive.”
With people living longer and feeling younger than ever, her clear message is certainly on target.
“People my age — 50 and older — feel young,” Austin says, adding that age is not a barrier. “You’re never too old to begin, even if you haven’t exercised in years. By starting with a 10-minute daily routine, you plant the seeds of a healthier habit that puts you squarely on the path to better health.”
No specialized equipment or gym membership is required to start.
“Go for a walk, or do 10 minutes of calisthenics,” she advises. “Devote time and establish a regular routine. If possible, try to exercise the same time each day, because research shows that people are more likely to exercise routinely if performed at a set time.”
That 10-minute routine will eventually grow to 12 minutes, then 15, with the eventual goal of achieving 30 minutes of daily exercise at a minimum. Don’t think the 10-minute prescription accomplishes much? Austin hears from people all over the country who say otherwise.
“I can’t believe how many people watch one of my programs then write, ‘I started with ten minutes and ended up watching your whole show,’ or ‘I ended up going for three miles instead of just one.’ People quickly realize that it doesn’t take much time and effort to get in better shape.”
Throughout the day, Austin says you can always find ways to incorporate exercise into daily activities.
“In the car on the way to work or in line at car pool, I tighten my tummy muscles,” the seasoned trainer says. “For example, you can tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling your bellybutton in like you’re zipping up a pair of jeans. The isometric exercise is good for your abs as well as your back. Isometrics work wherever you are. I have 15 to 20 different stretches I do almost every hour whether at the computer or while out and about. At the office, you can do many exercises. While sitting at your desk, do leg exercises by moving one leg up and down—you’ll strengthen the thigh muscles. Right now, for example, I’m stretching one arm and walking while talking to you on the telephone.”
Austin focuses on strengthening core muscle groups that stabilize our backs and boost our balance—an important issue as one ages.
“We know through research that 80 percent of people who suffer from low back pain have weak abdominal muscles,” says Austin. “If you keep the abdominals strong, in return they act as a girdle for your spine. I’m a big believer in core exercises.”
Throughout her career, Austin has squarely addressed the cornerstones of fitness.
“Exercise and diet are the most important ways to lose weight and feel better,” she adds. “It’s what you choose to eat that’s so important. I’m a big believer in consuming whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and good carbohydrates. Don’t starve yourself. I don’t believe in skipping meals or fad diets. Eat every three to four hours, even if it’s yogurt with a banana, just to keep your metabolism stable throughout the day.”
Too busy? Too tired? How can we overcome the many excuses and hurdles we confront in our hectic world?
“No time to exercise is the main excuse that I hear,” explains Austin. “People ask me, ‘How do you find the time?’ I say ‘I make the time.’ People must make the time for exercise. Put it on your calendar. When it becomes part of daily life, you carve time out for yourself and make it an important part of your day. If people say they are ‘too tired,’ I advise them to wake up a half an hour earlier and exercise in the morning—that way you’ll stick to it. If I wait until the end of the day, I can find a million excuses to never exercise. Another strategy is to find a friend. A friend keeps you going. I exercise a couple of mornings a week with my husband in the privacy of our house. You keep your routine up that way. When you get through the workout, you want to do it the next day. That’s the key to feeling better about yourself.”
Sustaining motivation day to day is imperative.
“God gave us one body, and we have to take good care of it,” says Austin. “Get off that couch and do something for yourself—you’ll feel so much better. Exercise is such a great mental filter for anyone coping with anxiety or stress. I promote pedometers because it’s fun to see how many steps you can take in a day. A pedometer is probably the best piece of equipment anyone could ever buy to get in shape. It’s a motivating and fun way to see if you can do more steps today than you did yesterday.”
As for hitting plateaus in our weight-loss plans, Austin offers some guidelines to tip the scales in your favor.
“The key to jump-starting your metabolism is doing things differently from what your body is used to,” explains Austin. “In the course of a week, I use different workouts. Some days I run, while other days I focus on yoga, Pilates, or weight training. By mixing up your routine, you surprise your muscles, which helps make a change in the body. If you’ve been walking for fitness all the time and hit a plateau, do something different—add weights to your workout or run two minutes of a 30-minute walk. Challenge yourself. Doing something different can make a big difference.”
Turning 50 was a milestone for the fitness icon.
“One of the biggest changes I noticed when I hit 50 is that you can’t let up because, if you do, you get softer quicker,” Austin says. “It’s also harder to get back into shape if you take three or four days off. The best part is that muscle has great memory and comes back more quickly: it just takes a little longer. You’ve got to fight it all the way because muscles work miracles on your metabolism. Muscle cells are very active while fat cells are sedentary. Throughout the day, evening, and even while you sleep, muscle cells burn more calories than fat cells.”
Along with a healthy diet, Austin boosted her nutritional intake.
“Eating healthy is the most important step you can take,” she explains. “As I age, however, I’ve included more omega-3 in my diet — from flaxseed or by consuming salmon at least twice a week — in addition to taking a multivitamin, extra vitamin C, calcium, and vitamin D.”
For people living with arthritis, back pain or other ailments, exercise can become an important tool to successfully cope with the problem.
“I always stress how important it is just to keep moving,” says Austin. “Swimming is good for people suffering from arthritis, because your body weighs less in the water. For people with low back or knee problems, strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints helps keep muscles strong. For people with osteoporosis, weight-bearing exercises are very important. Everything goes back to exercise.”
On the inside track of the latest research, Austin finds that the weight-loss equation is actually pretty straightforward.
“It comes down to simple things like how many calories you’re eating and how many calories you’re burning through muscle-conditioning exercise, flexibility, cardio strength,” Austin stresses. “I’m a big believer in balance — cardio to burn fat and condition your heart, flexibility, and muscle conditioning. By the end of the week, make sure you’ve done all three.”
Like so many mid-lifers, Austin has no plans to slow down.
“I hope to be like Jack LaLanne, God willing,” says Austin, a spokesperson for Keep Going Live Healthy campaign. “He looks amazing at 94. I find new elements of health and fitness to motivate people all the time. The sky’s the limit. Look at America — I still have a lot to do.”
For more on what you can do to keep your resolution, check out saturdayeveningpost.com/fooddiary
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now