She was 24 and just breaking into the fitness industry, although it wasn't much of an "industry" at the time.
All over Los Angeles she went, hired by companies to teach after-work aerobics classes. Along the way, she met the woman in charge of the American Heart Association's local office. She offered to help spread the word about the importance of physical fitness. The AHA took her up on it, sending her to speak at a local Jewish Community Center.
A man and his mother who were in the audience stuck around afterward to thank her. The man said her speech was the most inspirational he'd ever heard. He also said he was the general manager of the local ABC affiliate, and that his station happened to have an opening for a public service show. He thought she'd be perfect to talk about health and fitness.
Between TV shows, videos, books and work with the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Denise has guided tens of millions of people to healthier, more active lives. The photo on the right was taken in 2008, when she received the prestigious Red Dress Award from Woman's Day magazine.
With a New Year approaching, many people are talking about making lifestyle changes such as exercising more and eating better.
Unfortunately, many of the most well-intentioned New Year's resolutions fizzle by February. They're done in by a lack of commitment or a lack of know-how. That is where Denise can help.
I'm thrilled to turn this space over to her for guidance and inspiration. But first, let me wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy 2015; may it be your best year yet.
I don't mean overall, I'm talking about right this minute. As you read this on your computer, smartphone or tablet, how are you sitting or standing?
Odds are, you're slouching. Your chest is compressed, your tummy is pooched out.
You may not realize this, but you are the architect of your body, and you influence the design by the way you sit and stand. Everywhere I go, I see people unconsciously curled up around their devices. I think it's the new epidemic.
Here's why this is such a problem. A compressed chest lacks oxygen, and you need oxygen for energy.
Are you one of those people who feels tired, hectic and overwhelmed just from sitting behind a desk all day? Do those 3 p.m. doldrums hit you earlier and last longer? Well, the problem might be how you are sitting, and how long you are sitting.
So let's give this a try. Right now, sit up -- or, better still, stand up. Take a deep breath.
Pull in your abs and release the tension in your shoulders and down your back. It should feel like you are opening your chest. Think of it as trying to lift your heart.
Feels pretty good, right?
While I've promoted good posture for years, this is becoming my pet cause for 2015. I truly believe this one little change can make a world of difference in your energy level and your mood, both of which are important building blocks in creating a happier, healthier life.
The concept of little changes blossoming into big ones actually is the basis of my plan for making New Year's resolutions that work.
Creating a new you won't happen overnight. You've got to work your way there. If you suddenly make wild changes, they won't last.
Small, little habits that leave you feeling better and moving more will become the catalysts that keep you moving.
Good posture is a good start. Isometrics are another little thing you can do that don't require a gym membership or a single piece of equipment.
Isometrics is a fancy word for contracting (using!) specific groups of muscles, such as your abs.
By tightening your tummy and holding it for five seconds, you've done the equivalent of a sit-up. You can do this right now, wherever you are. You can do it in the car at red lights, or while waiting in line at the grocery store.
It works for other muscles, too. Tighten and release your back or shoulders as a great way to get blood circulating. You can do it to your butt, too. I tell people to think of it this way: If you don't squeeze your butt, nobody else will!
What about losing weight?
Again, start with small, easy changes -- like drinking more water.
Swap sugary drinks, yes, even diet soda, for water. Keep a bottle near you at work, at home, in your car. This is another way of boosting energy and metabolism, with the bonus that it keeps you full, so you won't eat as much.
Eating healthier needs to be a slow and steady process, too. One thing you can re-evaluate is your salad dressing. Try making your own! They can be cheap, easy and delicious, saving you money and up to 200 calories per meal.
I realize that none of these are revolutionary changes -- but that's the point. To change your body, what really must change is your attitude. Be optimistic. Visualize yourself being on track and focused.
Put it in writing. Set your objectives, and lay out a plan for getting there.
One of my favorite pieces of advice is to start with just 10 minutes of exercise a day -- and squeeze it into your schedule book. As a working mom, I know the difficulty of "finding" 10 minutes, but I also know I will do something if it's built into my schedule.
I know from experience that those 10 minutes can grow to 12 and 15. Soon, you'll be on your way to 30.
You can do it. I know it.
On Jan. 5, fitness guru Denise Austin is launching her first-ever comprehensive program that combines daily personalized plans for fitness, food and motivation. This online experience lasts 10 weeks, and spots are available through her website, DeniseAustin.com. You can also follow Denise on Twitter at @Denise_Austin, on Instagram at @deniseaustin and on Facebook at @DeniseAustin.