Denise Austin has been inspiring women to get fit and have fun for four decades. As one of the key figures in the ’80s aerobics boom, she knows a thing or two about fitness trends and which exercises stand the test of time – and at 65, Austin is still going strong. Her latest project is a free 30-minute workout on her YouTube channel, made in collaboration with SlimFast and inspired by her iconic workouts from the 80s. “The circle is complete now,” she says World Woman. “I felt like I was re-filming my exercise VHS tapes because I did so many of the same moves.” Here, Austin shares why retro workouts are making a comeback, how his daughter is following in his footsteps, and some ways we can all stay more positive and healthy as the holiday season approaches.
On ’80s nostalgia and how workouts changed
Austin was thrilled to see ’80s workouts making a comeback and being rediscovered by younger generations. “I love it. It brings me joy,” she raves. “The colors are fun and I have such fond memories of starting [out].” The decade was a time of playful fashions and pop music (some of Austin’s favorites were Cyndi Lauper, Donna Summer and Michael Jackson) – and, as she puts it, “I think we need to bring more fun back into the fitness world. We were always smiling. We need it now. It’s the perfect time to bring it all back.
Work has changed a bit since then; women now wear stylish Lululemon leggings and listen to their own Spotify music through headphones at the gym, when “it was ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ and leggings when I started in the early 80s , and aerobics had just started to become popular,” Austin recalls. “So things are very different now. But in the same way, people just wanted to feel good and move, exercise and having energy. And it’s always stayed the same throughout my 40 years in the fitness industry. People always want to have fun and enjoy fitness, but don’t do anything too much.
Austin points out that exercise has become even more valuable in today’s tech-obsessed world. “The movement really helps your mind,” she notes. “With the phones and all the social media, it has totally changed the way we think. We need to get out of our surroundings and enjoy life and not worry so much about social media all the time. That’s why I think the nostalgic part of the retro workout is so fun, because it takes you away from it all.
On his daughter Katie following in his footsteps
Denise’s 29-year-old daughter, Katie Austin, is now a fitness guru in her own right; she has her own training programs and an active social media presence. Katie can also be seen in the new SlimFast workout video, happily moving alongside her mother. Katie may be a 90s kid, but she appreciates her mother’s 80s heritage and has even posted some cute TikTok videos in which she poses in Denise’s old workout clothes. “I saved everything,” Austin says. “My workout leotards, my leggings, everything. I’m so glad I saved them. I’ve got gym bags full of it all. Katie finds great joy in it.
Katie had long been destined to work in the fitness industry. “I have two daughters,” Austin shares. “My eldest is Kelly, and she’s not as interested in it; she is more spiritual and in mental health. But Katie, even when she was a little girl, like 3 years old, stood behind the cameras and did it with me. Katie studied athletics in college before deciding she wanted to work in the fitness field. “I’m so proud,” Austin said. “I love what she does.” When they train together, “it’s not like work, and it keeps me young.”
On her favorite — and least favorite — exercise
Austin has done every exercise move you can think of – but what does she love the most? “My all-time favorite exercise would have to be something to do with the tummy because it’s the center of your whole body and your abs are what keep your spine healthy,” Austin says. Her favorite move for this area is a dance twist, which you can see in her early videos from the ’80s. “Anything with a twist, I love,” she proclaims. His less favorite move? Naturally, the tricky push-up/jump hybrids known as burpees.
Austin has always been an advocate of incorporating movement into your life in a casual way, and she insists that you don’t need a professional setup to get a good workout. “I do push-ups against a kitchen counter or my dining room table,” she says. “I simplify my life. I’m not trying to exaggerate anything. I try to keep the fitness part very simplified and not think about it too much. I tell people ‘you could do leg lifts right in your kitchen, because your muscles don’t know if you’re in a fancy gym or right there in your house’.
Stay fit as you age
Austin believes exercise can be a part of your lifestyle at any age. “We’re all getting old, so I want people to feel like they’re never too old to start,” she says. “There are little things you can do that aren’t that hard to feel better. A walk is a wonderful thing to do, just to exercise the muscles. She’s also a keen advocate for talking about aging in a more assertive light: “People are so worried about how they age,” she says. “But if you change your thinking to say, ‘Hey, I’m alive, I want to move, I want to do things,’ it is the way of thinking.
Looking at life in a positive light
One of Austin’s best-known qualities is his contagious positive energy. When asked how she stays in such an optimistic state of mind, she explains, “I’m grateful every day. I truly believe in having a healthy mind and body, and I think exercise helps get rid of stress and tension. Looking back on her long career clearly gives Austin a lot of fulfillment too: “I think what I’ve done for all these years has really paid off,” she says. “When you’re grateful, you don’t have time to be grumpy.” Austin’s penchant for celebrating small victories in life and not letting setbacks get to her could be genetic, as she also credits her mother for her optimistic attitude. “She was always very positive and found joy in the little things in life, and I think I take after her,” she reflects.
Although working out can be daunting, especially if you don’t do it regularly, Austin thinks you shouldn’t let it hold you back. “Even 10 minutes of movement will help your mind and body get up and running,” she recommends. “Try not to sit too long. Enjoy what you are doing and it will never feel like work. Obviously, whether you’re following a neon-tinged 80s workout or a minimalist modern workout, the most important thing is that you enjoy the movements. Maybe with the right attitude, we could all feel (and look!) as good as Austin.
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