You can’t help but feel the energy of Denise Austin, a pioneer in televised physical fitness and one of the nation’s most successful wellness authorities.
Staying atop a highly competitive and very public marketplace takes enthusiasm, insight and just plain guts—qualities Austin said she learned from her father. “My dad was a big influence for me. He had the strongest work ethic and I always watched him work so hard. He honestly was a go-getter, and I thought I could do the same.
“Through the years I’ve built up my name and my brand and my credibility, because I graduated with a P.E. degree,” she said. “Then I’ve followed it every year with TV shows and DVDs. I travel a lot and I’m constantly seeking what are going to be the next trends in fitness,” through her network of healthcare professionals and friends from serving on the President’s Council for Physical Fitness and her ongoing activities.
“I have DeniseAustin.com, where I can reach out to people on the Internet and get people to lose weight and talk about community online, which has been a huge new business for me. It’s really fun because I get immediate feedback. I have two million people who receive an e-mail newsletter from me every day. It’s free and tells people a new recipe of the day, a new fitness tip and more. I will even ask them, ‘What new DVD do you want me to do next?’ I’m filming two new DVDs in June and I’m in the middle of writing a book.”
But if it weren’t for happenstance, today she might be leading a gym full of school students instead of a national TV audience.
Watching a campus presentation by aerobic dance founder Jacki Sorensen was an epiphany to the former Denise Katnich. “I saw [Sorensen] and said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I wanted to study fitness further and do aerobics with music and movement. So, right at that moment, it changed my whole career path from being a regular physical education teacher to taking it to true entrepreneurship.”
She soon got additional boosts of inspiration from hearing motivational speaker Wayne Dyer talk on campus, then taking a class on developing corporate fitness programs.
“I thought, ‘That’s the other thing I want to do—teach aerobics at corporations,’” Austin continued. “Cal State Long Beach was amazing. They had me go into Fluor Corp. and teach aerobics to the employees. I was doing more corporate fitness, and because I was in California at the right time and the right place and the right school, it did wonders for me.”
Austin earned her B.S. in physical education in 1979 and immediately started a corporate fitness business, cold-calling company human resources offices to set up employee programs.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to move people away from their chairs into a lunchroom and start teaching aerobics?’ I’d bring my music tape player and at noon and 5:30 I’d go to TRW and Kaiser Hospital, so I was running all over town. Then it started really booming and I went to more companies and said, ‘Wouldn’t you want this?’” The business grew so much that she began training friends and her sister to help teach at area firms.
Her CSULB connections continued to pay off when P.E. instructor Richard Keeler became an executive with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness (now the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition) and invited Austin to a dinner in Washington, D.C. Fitness legend Jack LaLanne was a guest, so Austin gathered the courage to ask if she could be on his TV exercise show.
“I became his co-host within a month. He gave me my first start on television and he was my mentor ever since,” she said. She eventually got her own show on KABC-TV in Los Angeles, but it was actress Jane Fonda’s first workout video that Austin credits with broadening national interest in home exercise programs.
Since then, Austin, who married sports attorney Jeff Austin in 1983, has seen her business flourish. Today, “The joy is that I can set my own schedule. I have children now and I want to be there for them. I work around their sports schedules because I never want to miss a game that they’re playing. The joy in my life now is that I’m at the point in my career where I can pick and choose things, but it was never like that before because I was always working so hard to keep it up, because it’s constant, being in the public eye.”
Austin returned to Cal State Long Beach in 2010 to speak at the Student Recreation and Wellness Center dedication ceremony and catch up with campus friends.
As for running a successful business, “Go after it. Don’t wait for people to call you back.” Austin said. “You have to be very proactive in your phone calls and reaching out to whatever business opportunities come your way. You have to make it happen.” In proposing a fitness segment for NBC’s “Today Show,” “I called that producer 35 times and talked to that poor assistant, and she said, ‘He’ll call you back,’ and he never did. The 36th time, I called him at a different time in the evening and he answered. So, I never gave up, and for four years I was their fitness expert.”
Denise’s Tips for Good Health—
- The first and foremost thing is to move as often as you can and get up on your feet. We know now through research that sitting is really bad for our circulation and is truly keeping us very sedentary and packing on the pounds. Even if you have a desk job, the best thing I tell people to do is get off that rear end and stand at least a couple of minutes every hour, on the hour. You won’t believe the difference in how your body feels and how your circulation improves. Constantly think of new ways to implement movement back into your day. I tell people, ‘Food is not our enemy; sitting still is.’
- I make sure I get in a good 30 minutes of exercise every single day, getting my heart rate up, stretching and toning. It could be fast walking one day, yoga the next day, or using light weights.
- I always tell people, ‘It’s up to you how you think, so think positive. It’s how you eat, so eat healthy, and how you move, so get up and get moving. Remember these three things—taking care of your mind, working out, and your eating habits. All three will make you a more successful person.’