Few people can claim a longer presence and a greater impact in fitness than Denise Austin. With shows on Lifetime and ESPN2 and a library of step aerobics, Pilates and “Fast Blasting Yoga” videos dating back to the leotard-and-leg-warmers days of the 1980s, Austin has explored just about every fitness and nutrition trend of the last three-and-a-half decades. Before her NBJ Summit 2018 appearance, we talked to her about the changes she’s seen and where she sees the fitness and nutrition world going next.
Looking at how habits have changed since you started your fitness career, is it easier or more difficult for Americans to be fit in 2018?
Denise Austin: Well, there's so much out there to help people get fit now, which is fantastic. Whether through websites, apps or the internet, there's the opportunity now to get fit anywhere with some form of fitness, whether it's cycling inside or just walking. That's the beautiful part about it. But people need to get motivated; and that's the most important part. How do you motivate them and get them going and starting on a program? Because once you get them started, they feel so much better about themselves. They feel healthier, and their attitude improves. So, it's just getting started. Make that habit cemented in your schedule and then it'll fit into your lifestyle. That's the key: making it a part of life.
What keeps people from getting started?
It’s more difficult because people are overwhelmed, I think, with working so much. There are changes in the workplace, too, since I started 35 years ago. In my own business, everything is on my website now and I make personal connections. What I love about it is that I get to reach out to my community and to the women who follow me and really talk to them. Years ago when I had my TV show, I would show yoga and people would write me letters and then I would do a yoga exercise video because I knew, from the letters, that people loved it. But it took awhile to get the letters. So, now I just do a Facebook post about something like an ab challenge. They get so excited instantly and I know it’s a great idea. The instantaneousness of it is beautiful. And the connection that I have with my followers is amazing. But the difference, I think, is keeping people healthy in their attitude. A lot of times people get down on themselves for not doing enough because of Instagram and Facebook. I get a lot of letters from women, like ‘Oh, I don't go on these vacations,’ or ‘I don't get to do all these things.’ That hurts the psyche of a lot of people and I’d love to help improve that for people and make them feel better about themselves. That's pretty much what I do on my website. My focus is on keeping people moving and nourished. Motivation is 80 percent of it.
What other technology interests you?
Fitbit is amazing. It keeps people accountable for their steps and it really helps them. I believe in that because we all want to challenge ourselves and see how many steps we did in a day. The other thing I like is all the different connected bikes that are out there. I do a live workout on the bike for Echelon, which is really cool. People love to get fit in their home. It's really encouraging.
What's the health trend you find most discouraging?
People are on their phones too much. They are slouching and I've noticed a lot of people with neck, shoulder and back issues. In the last two years it's really been a problem. I get letters, like, ‘Oh, my God, my shoulders!’ Your spine is your lifeline.
What do you think is the bigger problem right now, inactivity or overeating?
They go hand-in-hand. People don't get up out of their chairs. I'm a big believer in getting off your rear end. Standing burns more calories than sitting and I have a whole series of exercises you can do. We need more circulation and people are sitting too much. Inactivity is the worst. The average American is now sitting 81/2 hours every single day. And then we find an issue with sleep, too. I think a lot of it has to do with your inactivity all day long. You've got to get out of your chair, stand up more often. I suggest to people to stand up, stretch your arms, stretch your legs, get circulation—that’s what helps heal your body.
Do you take any dietary supplements?
Yes, I take just a few, like vitamin D. I take a fish oil. I do a little bit of flaxseed with chia seeds every day. I also take this one with collagen, made by Purity, and I take that every day. That's pretty much it. I believe eating a good, healthy diet really helps also with your vitamin intake. We are looking to find great products that will help my followers improve their health and their well-being. That's really what my focus is. Because everyone asks me what I use for skin, what I eat, what supplements I take. So, I'm looking for some of the best products to help my followers improve their wellness, their health and beauty, and their overall well-being.
What do you tell your fans about the balance between healthy eating and supplementation?
I tell them good nutrition and balance are the keys. I'm a true believer in moderation and trying to get the good vitamins and nutrients from our food first and foremost. But we all need supplementation to help us go to the next level, to feel our optimum, and we're not perfect. I'm a true believer in eating right, and exercise is key. And keeping people positive in their mental well-being too, how brain health is so important as we age and how oxygen equals energy. I discuss a lot about that. But mainly I'm very open with them about making sure they have a balanced life. It's not all about pills or it's not just juicing. It's all about balance and moderation. And that's how I've truly lived my life.
You have a big presence on the internet. Do you have advice for nutrition companies seeking attention in that online influencer world?
I personally I think a lot of times you've got to reach out to people who understand your followers. Like, I know my followers really love anything that's going to improve their health and their well-being. So, I personally think that a lot of these companies need to find authentic people but also people with some great reputations. It's really important, reputation. Also, some form of education with it, you know. I have my degree. I continue to learn from the top doctors in the industry and the top people. So I stay on top of it. But that's me. So I don't know about others.
What’s new in your approach to online connection?
I have a 10-week plan that people are loving. I put them through how to eat right, how to exercise every day and how to get motivated, be more positive. It's like I come to them into their living rooms with either their phones or their iPads or their computers. Each day of the week, we do a different workout. So, it's kind of like I hold their hand for 10 weeks straight on a healthier lifestyle. The average person has been losing about 22 pounds, which has been great. And it's mainly eating healthy and exercise, getting on the right lifestyle plan.
Do you think the personalized nutrition movement using genetic tests and other diagnostic information is good or necessary?
Oh, I love it. Why not? I think it's fantastic. If you can afford it, why not do it? I'm a true believer in that. It's so fantastic. It's science. Why not follow the science and understand what everybody needs for their own body? We're all different and I love it. And everyone exercises at different levels. I think that it's a way of really being in tune with your health and your well-being and why not be better? Why not have optimal health?