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Denise Austin: Q & A with a fitness guru

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Denise Austin has made a life out of motivating people to get moving. For more than 25 years, the San Pedro native has watched the fitness world transform, cheerleading along the way. She's sold more than 20 million exercise videos and DVDs, starred in fitness television shows since the 1980s and written 10 books. She's married and lives in Washington, D.C., has two teenage daughters, runs an online diet and fitness program on her website and is preparing to make even more DVDs and TV shows and write more books.

Austin, 52, paused and reflected on physical fitness in California, whether the perfect body is possible and her plans for 2010.

In terms of personal fitness, what is new now that we are nearing 2010?

I'm a big believer in a balance of workouts -- a well-balanced workout plan. Part of it is cardio, part strength training and then flexibility. You really need all three. You have to make your muscles feel surprised. Mix in interval training, boot-camp-type workouts, a little yoga, a little Pilates. I personally have switched my routine to be a little bit of everything.

Walking is one of the best universal exercises, of course, because you can do it anywhere.

I also often tell people: "You are your own architect." Most Americans are sitting for 7 1/2 hours a day. Think about how you are sitting. Ask yourself: "How am I living those 16 waking hours of my life?" Exercise is important, but so is how you live your whole life.

How has the fitness world changed over time, and where is it headed?

We still have a lot to do as fitness experts. In the 1970s, it was running. Then we went to the aerobics to low-impact aerobics to step aerobics to yoga. The thing is to find something you love and stick with it.

The true message is that we still have a lot to do to get in shape. Everyone knows they have to work out. It's finding the time in our busy lives to actually do it.

Is the perfect body more attainable now than it ever has been?

Well, honestly, I don't ever think of a perfect body. I think of a healthy body. No one is ever just perfect.

I tell people: It isn't about being a skinny mini. It's about being fit, being healthy, it's how you live your life, how you are balanced.

You have to live. I believe in everything in moderation. Sometimes when people overdo things, they quit. My goal for people is to make it attainable.

Now with the economy, people need a way to get rid of their stress. It's so important to get out for a walk at lunchtime. If you're 40, you really need to prevent things now. I'm 50, so I can relate.

What can women expect from their bodies after 50?

I believe a woman can get a fit, toned and sexy body at 50, but she has to work out for it. Fight gravity all the way. Exercise is a must. Especially muscle-conditioning moves. To keep up your muscle tone and firm up, work out at least three times a week with weights, your own body weight, Pilates or boot-camp-type exercises that focus on strength.

Of course, cardio is so important too, as well as stretching for flexibility.

What about your children? How did your body change after pregnancies?

I have two daughters. I exercised during both pregnancies -- even filmed my TV shows and did videos while pregnant. I gained 30 pounds with each one. It took me about three months afterward to look OK and about six months to get back to my pre-pregnancy form. I had to film my TV show six weeks after each baby so, of course, I didn't look my best, but it was real -- nursing and all. Plus, it was interesting to note that the ratings went way up. Probably to see if my tummy was flat.

In Los Angeles specifically, how can average people do better to be more fit?

In L.A., I see people who are always in their cars, always driving. I encourage them to walk more -- walk to the post office, walk to lunch. Even if it is a 10-minute walk, it's so good for you.

My favorite thing in the whole world is to walk from Hermosa to Manhattan on the Strand.

I also tell people to wake up 10 minutes earlier and do some calisthenics. Mentally, you prepare yourself to have a healthier day.

You are originally from Southern California. How did growing up here affect your attitude toward health?

I grew up in San Pedro. I was a gymnast as a little girl. Eventually, I got a full scholarship to the University of Arizona.

I started at the YMCA in San Pedro at 11. Finding that passion -- that became my life.

What was cool about my career, Jack LaLanne gave me my first break on TV. I was his co-host. California, and Los Angeles especially, was sort of the hub of aerobics in the 1980s. I totally appreciate the opportunity to be on his show.

After that came "Daybreak With Denise" in 1983. Then I did the NBC "Today Show" as a fitness expert from 1984 to 1988. So that really sort of launched my career.

What's next for you?

I have a new DVD coming out Sept. 15 called the "Best Leg and Bun Shapers," and two more DVDs coming out at Christmas. I have a new book coming out in January 2010, and I am also in the planning stages for a new TV show for 2010.

lori.kozlowski@latimes.com

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