As an actress, singer, dancer, author, model and mother, Vanessa Williams puts a triple-threat to shame. No wonder she looks so darn good at 50! Since being crowned the first African American to be crowned Miss America back in 1983, Vanessa has conquered television (Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives and 666 Park Avenue, to name a few) and the big screen. Most recently, she returned to the Broadway stage in “The Trip to Bountiful.” But a busy life of fame and fortune doesn’t stand in Vanessa’s way for one of her biggest passion projects: spreading heart health awareness. With loved ones affected by heart disease, she turned to Bayer and WomenHeart to make a difference. We sat down with the starlet to learn more about how a simple handbag item can save lives and—of course—found out her age defying secrets. Read on for the full interview.
What inspired you to connect with Bayer aspirin in this whole initiative of the Handbags and Hearts?
I’ve been involved with heart issues for probably 10 years now. My grandmother died at 28 of a heart attack, my other grandmother died at 64 of a heart attack and so I’ve always been pretty vocal about women’s health issues—especially heart disease. They approached me about starting the campaign for Handbags and Hearts to increase the awareness of the correlation, being the number one killer for women, but also to have people—especially women—carry aspirin in their handbags, their purse, their pocketbooks. That’s important. And also to have women know that our symptoms are different than men’s. We want to drive people to the website so they can see what the symptoms are, be aware of them. Obviously if there is an issue, the first thing they need to do is call 911, but go in their bag and grab an aspirin because it’s shown that it helps to reduce further damage to the heart once a heart attack actually happens to you. It helps save lives. It’s been a fantastic partnership with WomenHeart and Bayer. Every person that pledges and every woman that goes online to pledge at the site, they’re going to donate up to $200,000.
Besides aspirin, how do you personally boost your heart health?
Cardio—I work out all the time. I mix it up, whether its treadmill at my house, or riding bikes. Recently, I’ve been doing in LA a gym called Body Theory, and there’s a class called “Drench.” You are literally drenched by the time you finish it! It’s an hour and a half of pure cardio and weights, which is fantastic and I’m obsessed with. In NY, I do at Westchester MMA a heavy bag fit class, which is everything from jumping rope to a lot of boot camp exercises. But then you tape up your hands—you do wraps—put your boxing gloves on and you fight a heavy bag, one of those big six-foot bags. You do combinations of that—kicks and punches. I like to mix it up.
So staying fit as a busy mother on four, killing it on Broadway…that must be really tough. How do you keep up with fitness and healthy food on-the-go?
You make time for it. Sometimes, you can’t. If you cant make it to the gym, try to get on a treadmill. If you cant get into the gym or to a treadmill, try walking. Try to do something for at least (for me) 45 minutes to an hour in a day, just to feel energized, and feel like my body is woken up, that I’ve felt all the endorphins, then start my day. And I like to work out in the morning—I can’t do afternoon or evening workouts. I need to do it in the morning. Get it done, start my day, feel the adrenaline. But you have to make time. Same thing with food. You have to make an effort. My biggest tip is to not have anything that I don’t want to eat in my house. It’s one thing when you know there are cookies that are calling your name and you know that every time you walk by the cupboard, they’re there and you’re battling with yourself—should I open it, should I not, should I have one…you’re going to torture yourself. So don’t have them in your house. As soon as, if I get a basket or gift bag filled with something delicious that I know I don’t want to wipe out the entire thing, I’ll bring it to the cast and say, “Put it on the green room table, enjoy!” I’ll have one and walk out of the room so I don’t have to wrestle with should I or should I not. Because food is good! It’s easy to make healthy choices, too. Living in this country, there are so many opportunities for anything, anything online, for sure. I fast, I do juice cleanses maybe three times a year. I’ve done BluePrint for probably five years. But that’s always great to kind of reboot your system, especially if you feel sluggish or a bit toxic like after holidays—you just want to clean yourself out and start fresh.
Describe your typical day off for us.
If I have a day off…maybe get a manicure pedicure, a massage would be nice. I went to a sample sale yesterday after I finished working, which was fantastic. And we’re waiting for the good weather to come, but when the good weather comes, I’ll definitely tool around my patio, get some new pillows for my outdoor furniture, kind of set that up. I love when it’s warm weather and you can entertain outside.
What is one priceless piece of advice your mother gave you that you have now passed along to your kids?
It would probably be the importance of family. We do everything as a family. Every celebration is as a family and if we can’t all be there, we’ll still be inclusive. I think my kids have seen that growing up. I mean, my mother lives next door to me, so we actually couldn’t get any closer to that in proximity, but she’s literally in the house next door. But knowing that you always have the support from your family and knowing that no mater what happens in your life, good, bad, struggles, trials and tribulations, you will always have unconditional love by your family.
Anything in the works we should know about?
I’ve never done a fitness video, but at 50 years old—which I just turned last month—it’s been great to feel…I feel energized, I feel healthy I feel age-less, and I know it’s because working out, feeling great, my body is strong, I take my supplements everyday and I listen to my body. So I hope I continue to listen to my body and feed what it needs and stay as fit as I can for where I am. I’m not chasing what I was in my 20s and 30s or even 40s. I want to be the best that I can be at 50. And I want to continue to do that.
Taking aspirin during a heart attack has been shown to reduce the risk of death and can also lessen the damaging effects. For every person who takes the Handbags and Hearts pledge, a donation will be made to WomenHeart to continue raising awareness of women's heart disease.