For decades, fitness legend Denise Austin, who has sold more than 24 million exercise videos, has been inspiring women to find enjoyable ways to keep their bodies moving. At age 66, she knows firsthand that staying active can help keep people feeling young and energized. One of her ever-present mantras: “If you rest, you rust! We need to bring the fun back to fitness.”
That being said, it’s no surprise that Denise has embraced the fastest growing sport in America — pickleball! “I love pickleball,” Denise tells WomansWorld.com. “It’s something everyone can do. It’s social, fun and a great workout all in one!” She adds, “It’s easy to pick up and learn, whether you’re athletic or not. Anyone can join in!”
Read on to find out more about Denise’s passion for pickleball, her secrets for playing your best game and info about the release of her Easy Spirit pickleball shoes.
How did Denise Austin catch the pickleball bug?
“My family and I started playing pickleball several Thanksgivings ago,” she shares. It seemed like a natural thing for her tennis-loving family to try, as Denise, who was a collegiate gymnast, married into tennis royalty.
She shared, “My husband Jeff played professional tennis and my sister-in-law, Tracy Austin, is a two-time US Open Winner!” On top of that, Denise’s two children earned athletic scholarships to play lacrosse in college — so they are always game for, well, learning a new game.
Regardless of her family’s athletic ability, Denise loves that you don’t have to be a champ — or even in great shape — to enjoy pickleball. “Tennis is very skill-oriented, where pickleball is more social and low-impact,” she says. “My husband, Jeff, and I love to play mixed doubles with other couples. It is so fun!”
Denise also routinely plays pickleball with her girlfriends and daughters, Kelly Austin and fitness influencer Katie Austin. Talk about following in her mother’s footsteps.
How popular is pickleball?
Pickleball fans are called “pickleheads,” and there are about 36.5 million of them in the US, according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals. In fact, the sport has grown an astounding 158.6 percent over the past 3 years, according to the 2023 Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) Topline Participation Report.
Finding a place to play pickleball has never been easier. There are currently more than 10,000 pickleball courts in the United States, according to Pickleheads.com, a site that covers all things pickleball related.
Denise lives in California, which currently has more pickleball courts than any other state, followed by Florida and Texas. Seattle, the birthplace of pickleball, is believed to have the most courts of any US city, followed by Denver.
Do I have to be athletic to play pickleball?
One of the main reasons this activity has such a surging interest is because of how easy it is to learn and get started. “I love the fact that there’s such a small learning curve so anyone can just jump in. They will get the hang of it very quickly,” explains Denise. “You really don’t even have to have a partner. Just show up to a public court and I bet there will be someone around you that loves to play! I find that it’s a fun workout for women over 50.”
For people who are thinking about trying this activity for the first time, there’s no need to feel nervous. In a classic Denise Austin peptalk, the fitness pioneer says, “You can do it! Get up and give it a try. Have the confidence and you can make it happen. Go out with a girlfriend and just start. Don’t be afraid. It’s so fun!”
Learning the pickleball rules
The sport was invented around 1965 and has been gaining momentum ever since. It is described as a combination of tennis, ping-pong and badminton. Players use solid racquet-like paddles with balls that resemble lightweight whiffle balls.
The game is played on a modified (smaller) tennis court that measures 44’ x 20’, with a net that is two inches shorter than a standard tennis divider.
Learning how to play pickleball is pretty straightforward: Serves are underhand and on the first serve, the ball must bounce before being returned. Only the serving team can win points. The first side to earn 11 points wins the game. And like ping-pong and tennis you must win by at least 2 points. The game can be played as singles (2 players) or doubles (4 players).
How does Denise Austin prepare to play pickleball?
Denise knows the perfect way to prime the body for this activity in order to feel great and avoid injuries. “Stretch your hamstrings, quads and groin area before you play and strength-train off the court,” she advises.
“Wall sits and walking lunges are my go-to stretches, and squats and lunges will help to strengthen your lower body.”
How should you dress for pickleball?
Players tend to wear athletic clothing or athleisure wear for a game of pickleball. As for footwear, Denise took her love of this sport to the next level by designing a line of pickleball shoes for Easy Spirit, available in stores July 18, 2023.
“My Dilli Pickleball Shoes are wonderful! Since I already have an amazing partnership with Easy Spirit, this collab was a no-brainer,” she cheers. “We worked hard to make them the most comfortable shoes you will wear on the court — great support for lateral movements, cushion for your feet and great traction for safety. You will love them.”
Denise already has a line of walking sneakers with the brand, and one look at her Instagram feed will tell you that there’s no doubt she wears Easy Spirit walking sneakers when she’s off the pickleball court. “I have the best walking shoes. Those really are my ones I wear every day.”
(Click through for more options for pickleball shoes for women.)
Denise Austin shares the health benefits of pickleball
Pickleball can be a great cardio and weight-loss activity — experts estimate you can burn 600 or more calories an hour playing pickleball — and it builds muscle with functional movements like bending, reaching, stepping and jumping. But women have also said they use it as a depression cure.
“I never regret getting moving or going for a walk,” says Denise. “Movement — even 10 minutes — helps your metabolism and provides benefits for your mental and physical health, which are so important.” She adds, “It’s the little things that kind of make you feel young again!” (Click through to see how exercise like pickleball naturally raises GLP-1 levels to steady blood sugar and speed weight loss, how it strengthens your memory and how it wards off osteoporosis without drugs, too.)
Denise Austin isn’t the only famous “picklehead”
Lots of stars are following Denise’s footsteps and getting in on the action of this popular sport. Other celebrities who are known to enjoy a game of pickleball include Emma Watson, Jenna Bush Hager, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney and tennis greats Andre Agassi and Serena Williams.
Pickleball is more than just a game, it’s becoming a lifestyle. Integrative nutrition health coach Sherri Holzer recently released a cookbook for pickleball fans called Everything But The Kitchen Dink, referencing the pickleball term “dink,” meaning a short shot. Her community-driven cookbook provides simple, fun, and nutritious recipes sure to help pickleball players maintain a healthy lifestyle off the court.
Regardless of whether you’re a pro or just getting started, pickleball is a fun way to get your body moving!
Want more of Denise Austin’s healthy tips?
Pick up the July 17th issue of Woman’s World for Denise’s stress tips, nutrition secrets and more, or check out her newest special issue lifestyle magazine, Denise Austin’s Fit Over 50! For our online story on her walking tips, click through Walking to Lose Weight? Try Denise Austin’s Simple Fat-Burning Routine.
Lisa Maxbauer is an award-winning health and nutrition writer at First for Women and Woman’s World magazines. She is a former guest blogger with The New York Times and author of the award-winning independent children’s book Squash Boom Beet. Learn more at SquashBoomBeet.com and follow on Instagram @lisamaxbauer.