The Trick I Learned from Denise Austin

Michele Bender

150%;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">During a recent interview with fitness guru Denise Austin, I ask her how she keeps her 52-year-old body so fit. One secret? She’s active throughout her day: she does push-ups on the kitchen counter while waiting for her toast, squats while brushing her teeth and stretches in the back of the plane when stuck on the runway. “Your muscles don’t know whether you’re at the gym or not,” she says. “And you can burn up to 500 calories a day just by adding more physical activity.”  500 calories? That’s two bags of M &M’s or a cup of cookie dough ice cream! Better yet, torching five-hundred extra calories daily for a week means you could shed a whole pound (3500 calories equal a pound). Though I know 500 is the high end, I also recall a study from the National Institute on Aging that found that even small bouts of activity may enhance your health. I decide to try it.

Day one: I’m amazed when I squeeze in a set of squats while drying my hair, tricep dips while waiting for the kettle to boil and leg lifts while helping my daughter with homework. Day two: I vow to take the stairs instead of the elevator to my fifth floor apartment. I am huffing and puffing at the top, but the circulation boost is energizing. Day three: I’m walking to a meeting and it starts to drizzle. Several empty cabs pass by (a rarity on a rainy day in New York City), but I don’t hail one. I have an umbrella so why not walk?  Day 4: I arrive early for pick up at school. Usually, when this happens I sit outside and return calls. Instead, I walk eight laps around the courtyard while yapping away on my cell phone! I like the fact that I’ve torched calories; I
normal">love the exercise-induced endorphins that provide a much-needed mood boost.

I continue this for almost two weeks. I do squats while stir-frying veggies at the stove, butt squeezes on line at the bank and calf raises while brushing my teeth. I even walk around the field during my daughter’s little league game. At first I feel silly. It’s one thing to do butt squeezes that no one can see; it’s another to power walk with an audience. But with my new “let’s get physical attitude,” standing around seems wasteful when I can watch my daughter play while moving.

All this activity inspires a healthier lifestyle. I eat more home-cooked meals instead of take out, drink more water and stop nibbling off my kids’ plates. On the flip side, on days when I’m too busy to hit the gym or devour too much of the aforementioned cookie dough ice cream, I don’t feel guilty. I also find myself looking at life through a more active lens. Carrying my whining 4-year-old son out of the playground is an arm toner rather than an annoyance. And when my kids ask for a snack just as I get cozy on the couch or for water when I’m snuggled in bed, I tell myself that getting up and down is exercise. Then I don’t mind as much. (And neither does my husband who can now stay put at these times. Who knew this experiment would also help my marriage?) And Denise is right about your muscles not knowing whether you’re at the gym or not. After 10 days, I’m not winded climbing the stairs, my arms are more toned and drum roll please… my jeans are looser! By adding exercise to things I need to do anyway getting to my apartment or waiting on line I’m exercising more without spending more time. In fact, I did two sets of stomach contractions while writing this piece. Talk about multi-tasking!

First Published Mon, 2009-05-18 07:49

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