LE: What is your diet like?
JS: My meals are heart healthy. I love berries and other antioxidant-rich foods. Berries contain phytonutrients that help with a variety of age-related health conditions. Also, the antioxidants they contain help to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, making it less likely to stick to the walls of your arteries and promote atherosclerosis. My family grows organic food at home, so we always have fresh fruits and vegetables grown without pesticides. I rarely eat red meat; it’s usually chicken or fish with lots of veggies. I try to keep my sodium intake low, too. Once in a while I’ll indulge, but even then it’s in moderation. I also eat lots of nuts, especially pistachios.
LE: What’s so special about pistachios?
JS: Pistachios are actually a very healthy nut. They contain predominantly monounsaturated fat as well as polyunsaturated fat, which fits in well with a heart-healthy diet. They are high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in saturated fat. Pistachios are cholesterol free and have significant amounts of magnesium and arginine, which may help to lower blood pressure, and a high level of beta-sitosterol, which can help lower cholesterol. They are also a good source of fiber. My children and I eat them often for a healthy snack.
LE: Do you exercise regularly? What role does this play in heart health?
JS: I exercise when I can, but I had back surgery a while back, so I have to be careful. I love to walk at a fast pace, and I also do Pilates, stretching, weights, and isometric movements. Exercise is very important for heart health. You don’t need fancy machines—just make exercise a part of your life. I’m constantly moving and it keeps my heart healthy. There are plenty of studies showing that exercise improves cholesterol profiles, and it keeps your blood pressure in check, too. If only more people would commit to even a modest exercise program, it would really put a dent in the heart disease epidemic.
LE: If you had to pick the top three ways to prevent heart disease in women, what would they be?
JS: Nutrition, aerobic exercise, and monitoring your condition so you can correct minor things before they become more serious. Good nutrition is essential for maintaining the health of your cardiovascular system. Fatty fish such as salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and help to improve your blood pressure and cholesterol profile. Olives contain high levels of monounsaturated fats that promote heart health. And, of course, you need a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals to ensure that your body gets enough antioxidants and other nutrients to fight free radicals and maximize your immune system.
Even if you don’t have heart disease, good nutrition and exercise will help you. Stress is also a huge factor in the health of your heart. Traditionally, it was believed that men had more stress, but like many women today, I have a career, plus I’m a mother and wife, so I have three stresses. Often women are more stressed than men because of these multiple responsibilities.
LE: Nuts were once considered bad for the heart because of their fat content. Now we know that they’re good for the heart. What other myths are getting in the way of heart health for women?
JS: There are a lot of myths out there about heart health. You need to address the fact that obesity affects your heart, and if you tax the organ too much with excess body weight, you may die sooner. Your body is like a car—if you take good care of it, it will last longer. So make sure that your body is running smoothly, and don’t put bad things into it. I believe that everything in moderation works well. While you have to watch the salt content, nuts contain good fats, and they taste great. It’s good to get kids into eating them—they are much healthier than candy.
LE: The traditional English diet is no more heart healthy than the traditional American diet. What was it like growing up with those foods? Are dietary habits changing in your native England?
JS: I grew up eating lots of Dutch food. It was heavy on the cheese, along with bread fried in bacon fat. But change is happening in Europe as well as in this country. I have tried to educate my children, and now they prefer whole-wheat bread to white bread. Also, they get plenty of fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables.
LE: Your efforts to promote heart health are laudable, but one person can only do so much. What needs to happen at the national level to fight this killer disease? Are new guidelines necessary?
JS: Education is the most important thing. Everyone needs to address hypertension and the root causes of heart disease. You should check the condition of your arteries and your blood pressure on a regular basis. Also, you have to be proactive. Lifestyle choices are important. I am a firm believer in complementary medicine and I do alternative things as well, but you need to go to your doctor on a regular basis to monitor your health. Sometimes drugs are necessary, but you also need to live healthy.
We don’t need more laws, we just have to educate people to eat and live right. Many people are choosing to eat things that are bad for them. We need to educate young people so they know what to do. Kids need to be taught that some foods are poison. An occasional splurge is okay, but once people realize that other options are healthier, their tastes often change for the better. Let’s face it: the drug companies control so much of what is going on, and they do it for their own profit. But when people are educated and are proactive, they won’t need to go to the doctor as often and take expensive drugs.
LE: Given the many films and other projects you’ve done, you must be getting on in years, yet you look so young. What are your “secrets” for fighting aging?
JS: You need to have a passion for doing things; you can’t be a quitter. There are still lots of things that I want to learn and try. With luck, I will manage to do a few of them. Don’t spend your time thinking about what used to be. You can’t fear the future, either. I live my life in the present tense. I appreciate the fact that I can work, remember my lines, create things, and help my children. My attitude is that you should focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t.
LE: You recently exhibited your paintings. What inspires you to paint? With your busy schedule, when do you find time to paint?
JS: I literally paint from the heart. It is my meditation, my joy and passion. Initially, it was something private that I did for myself, but then people saw my paintings and wanted to buy them. Now I’ve raised lots of money for charity with them. It is the most consistent work that I do. I participate in at least 12 art shows a year. So while it started as a personal endeavor, it’s now a major part of my career. I’ve been known to bring watercolors wherever I go. I make time for painting, and I often have watercolors in my handbag, so I can paint at any time.
LE: With your attention to health and fitness, you’ll no doubt lead a long life. What new challenges or horizons do you hope to explore?
JS: Every day I’m challenged to do something new. I’m convinced that I will be active—and no doubt painting—until the end of my days. I’m constantly inspired to learn new things and try something different. That’s the joy of art and the creative process—it’s a never-ending project.
LE: Are you ready to live to be 100?
JS: I’m definitely ready to live to be 100. I’d like to die healthy, of course, and die happy, knowing that I did the things I wanted to do with the time I had.
For more information, visit www.hearttruth.gov, www.pistachio.org, www.nutrition.gov, www.janeseymour.com, and www.cdc.gov.