Why Are so Many Fitness and Wellness Superstars Australian?

Photo: Lorna Jane

Kayla Itsines, Emily Skye, Amanda Bisk, Tanya Poppett. You may know of a few of the things these women have in common: sculpted abs, for one, and "star trainer" status on Instagram (where their followings range from 340,000 to 5.5 million). What you might not know: They're also all Australian—and they're not the first wellness success stories that hail from Down Under.

Michelle Bridges—dubbed "Australia's Jillian Michaels,"launched her online fitness program in the US in 2014, and Sydney-born interval training workout F45 Training just might be the world's fastest growing fitness franchise. Crazy successful wellness brands like The Beauty Chef and the cult-favorite, all-natural coffee skin-care line Frank Body are Aussie, too.

In fashion, Lorna Jane Clarkson—who created massive global fitness fashion brand Lorna Jane in Australia in 1989—is said to have coined the term "activewear." And let's not forget famous Aussie food exports like avocado toast and blue algae lattes (it's no wonder the continent has spawned Instagram food phenoms like Taline Gabriel, AKA, Hippie Lane).

All of this of course begs the question: Is there something in the (presumably incredibly alkaline) water down there? Does the overall culture and lifestyle in Australia foster wellness innovation, or is it all just a big happy, healthy coincidence?

Here, we try to get to the bottom of why so many wellness stars hail from Down Under.

Photo: Emily Skye
Photo: Emily Skye

"In my opinion, Australia would have to be one of the most health-focused countries on the planet," says Clarkson. "The Aussie climate definitely drives a more active lifestyle simply because we tend to spend more time outdoors. We also have access to beautiful fresh produce all year round, which means it’s easier to make better food choices and nourish our bodies in the right way."

Paige Gregor, an Aussie wellness guru living in New York City who works for LuliTonix and is the co-founder of the Goddess Brunch initiative, seconds the nod to the great outdoors. "Most people in Australia have a backyard, beach, or farm at their doorstep, so we all grew up very active and with a love and appreciation for the great outdoors," she says. Gregor says the norm also tends to be cooking at home, and that food tends to be more simple and fresh (and less factory-created).

"In my opinion, Australia would have to be one of the most health-focused countries on the planet."

According to one 2015 report, of 13 wealthy countries, Australia had the fourth highest life expectancy. (The US came in dead last—pun intended—by quite a lot, by the way, despite spending the most money on health care.) Australia also had one of the lowest rates of smoking, but a higher obesity rate than most of the other countries (not the US, of course).

And of course while an active lifestyle may be more of a norm than in other places, not all who rise to fitness fame experience its influence. Workout phenom Emily Skye, for instance, says that health and fitness was not a part of her life growing up on Australia's Central Coast. "My mum always fed my sister and me healthy food, but I didn’t know much about health nor did I think it was important," she says.

Skye studied to become a personal trainer at 18, found herself in an obsessive, unhealthy relationship with eating and working out, and then finally had an aha moment and turned it around. As she dove into wellness about seven years ago, she says, most people she knew didn't "get it" yet.

"When I first started with health and fitness there weren’t many people doing it. People used to think I was crazy."

"When I first started with health and fitness there weren’t many people doing it. People used to think I was crazy. I would receive comments like, 'You’re already skinny, why are you eating healthy food and going to the gym?' and 'Isn’t lifting weights for men?' They didn’t understand that this wasn’t a short term thing for me, it was my new lifestyle and I was in love with it," she says. "Now fitness has become quite popular, especially here in Australia, which I think is so amazing. More and more people are choosing a healthy lifestyle as opposed to short-term diets."

And whether or not it relates to her whereabouts, she's going to ride that wave. "All I’m concerned with now is educating people and spreading a positive message to as many people as I can to hopefully inspire more people to live a healthy lifestyle," she says. Perhaps at least few of them will soon be Aussie trainers with followings as big as hers.

Speaking of Emily Skye, check out this fall fitness plan she customized just for Well+Good readers. And in case you needed some convincing, here's why taking their advice is actually a good idea.

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