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She's Got Energy, Exercises and Oodles of Enthusiasm

Celebrities: Denise Austin has carved herself a lucrative niche in the world of fitness TV and videos. And she's just so darn happy about everything!

February 22, 1996|MEGAN ROSENFELD | THE WASHINGTON POST

"Here, feel my tummy." Denise Austin, 38, proffers her bare midsection, a tanned rectangle between the top of her neon-orange exercise shorts and matching bra top. It feels like you could drive a car over it and she'd still be breathing.

"That's my trademark," she says. "Everybody's felt my tummy." George Bush has felt her tummy, and Colin Powell and Phil Donahue and Kathie Lee Gifford.

It's a very impressive tummy.

Indeed, Austin is impressive all over. She produces a daily half-hour exercise program on ESPN and two videos a year, and sells huge quantities of her name-brand workout equipment on the television shopping channel QVC. She has now produced a book: "Jump-Start: The 21-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Get Fit, and Increase Your Energy and Enthusiasm for Life." She has two little girls, a mane of streaked blond hair, hundreds of teeth, a husband who's a successful sports attorney and a five-story townhouse in an exclusive section of Alexandria, Va.

On top of that, when it comes to energy and enthusiasm for life, Austin has few peers. Depression dare not furrow her brow, or laziness infect her 110-pound frame. She is up, and so full of vim and vigor that even her conversation is underlined and full of exclamation points!

The telephone rings. She jumps out of her beige leather chair and opens the door of a built-in cabinet. A phone rolls out on a shelf. It's her publicist. "Hi, honey!" Austin says. "Call Laurie or Pat at the 800 number and tell them to Fed-Ex it to you. . . . "

If Austin were alone and the conversation had gone on longer, she would not have just stood there talking, as most of us do. She would have done some leg lifts or jumped on her stationary bike. Austin believes that a person should never be idle for long.

Stop wasting all that time just brushing your teeth! Do a few "tush and thigh toners," she advises, lifting your leg behind you and bending your knee while you wield your toothbrush. Stuck in traffic? Try some chin lifts. Just raise your lower teeth over your upper lip and then lower them, as many times as you can in one minute. While you are reading this article you could be doing tummy tighteners! Suck that gut in and hold it for 10 seconds. That's the equivalent of a sit-up.

If you read Austin's book, it is hard to imagine a place where or time when you should not be exercising. She wants you to do squats while blow-drying your hair (difficult, unless you don't mind looking like you live in a wind tunnel). She wants you to do saddlebag-slimming side kicks while you are cooking (Oops, better get the kids out of the way) or leg stretches along the kitchen counter while you wash dishes (No, dear, that's just a water stain).

And you should exercise at the office, of course, stretching and toning at your desk every hour or so, even if your boss thinks you should be typing or your colleagues are giving you weird looks. "It's your body," Austin says firmly. "It's your responsibility." Her role is to hunt down your every excuse and torpedo it.

And she is prepared to be your inspiration. For each of the 21 days listed in her book, or every day if you tune in to her TV show, she offers "Deniseology," a few sentences of encouragement and wisdom.

For example: "People have always said to me, 'Denise, I wish I could bottle your positive energy!' 'Denise, you are always in a great mood! How do you stay so up all of the time?' Or my favorite, 'Denise, don't you ever get depressed?' Well, the honest answer is that I am up most all of the time because I choose to be! . . . One of my favorite ways to stay enthusiastic is to think of every day as a new and exciting adventure!"

Or, as she puts it in another chapter, do not indulge in "Stinky Thinking." Nasty old negativity. Bad.

She has always been a positive thinker, she says. The middle of five children, four girls and a boy, Austin was raised in Southern California. Her parents divorced when she was 8, and after that her mother took a job as a social worker in Los Angeles and raised the kids and never complained. Her father, a onetime baseball player with the St. Louis Browns, was a salesman for M&M / Mars, another person full of energy and enthusiasm. Austin can remember going with him at the age of 4 on sales calls, helping him carefully arrange the displays of M&Ms to best advantage.

"I honestly believe in myself," she says. She started gymnastics at 12 and went on to win so many awards that she had 21 offers of athletic scholarships to college. She went to the University of Arizona and graduated with a degree in exercise physiology from Cal State Long Beach.

She started her own business in Los Angeles immediately upon graduation, setting up corporate fitness programs. In 1983, she married Jeff Austin, a nationally ranked tennis player turned lawyer, and the brother of tennis star Tracy. Denise led her wedding party in aerobics. Shortly after, they moved east.

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