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At age 37, Kelly Ripa has done what most of us only dream about: She's given her abs, arms, and butt a total makeover. As Kelly puts it, "For the first time, I have muscles!" But her commitment to health goes beyond crunches and curls: She supports HEART for Women, a bill before Congress requesting funding for and education about gender-related aspects of cardiovascular health. Here's what this month's Mind, Body & Spirit Superstar told FITNESS.A lot of women think if they didn't exercise in their 20s, there's no way they can start at 35 or 40. You've done it. What's the secret?
KR: I was the same way about exercise. I didn't do it in my 20s and I was like, it's too late to start now. I figured, I work in an industry where there's a stylist and a makeup artist -- they'll make me look fine. But I began feeling tired -- just playing in the park with my kids wore me down. I thought, "Geez, I'm kind of young to be feeling this way." So I started walking on a treadmill. Then I started jogging on a treadmill. Then I began jogging outside. Now I'm running outside, three to five miles, and taking toning classes.At what point did you notice changes in how your body looked?
KR: A month or two after I started working out, I wore a sleeveless turtleneck to work. Regis was like, "Ripa, your arm muscles look incredible!" It was the first time anybody had ever said anything to me about my muscles. And because I am a vain person, that's all I needed to hear to stay with it.
KR: I am totally hooked on this sculpting class I discovered at [New York City gym] Physique 57. It's transformed my body in ways I never thought possible. Women are instant-gratification junkies, and I could see a difference physically within five classes. I'm a short person, but I'm becoming longer and leaner. The class works your glutes, your abs, and your obliques. It's all about building muscle, then stretching it out. I've never been addicted to something like this. I go at least four times a week.Group classes or private?
KR: It's an hour-long group class. It's always crowded -- you have to wedge yourself in there. But there's something about working out with a group of women that's really inspiring. As women, we do better if we exercise with a partner. It's the most exhausted yet stimulated I've ever felt. I took Mark to it, and he was like, "This is too challenging, I can't do this." He hasn't gone back.What move really works your body?
KR: There's one where you get into a deep pli?, rise up on the ball of one foot, then switch to the ball of the other foot and back. Eventually you rise up on the balls of both feet while staying in pli?. You go down an inch, up an inch, down an inch, up an inch. Your legs are literally shaking. The burn is significant. But boy, it really sculpts my legs!
KR: I used to smoke, so lung cancer is the thing that keeps me awake at night. I worry, Did I quit in enough time? Did I do it for too long? It's one of those things where I think, Boy, what a foolish thing I did. I'm not from the generation where you can go, "Oh, I didn't know it was bad for me." No. Everybody knew it was bad.Have you also changed your eating habits?
KR: We've always been healthy eaters, mostly to keep our cholesterol levels down. There's diabetes on Mark's side of the family and my father had heart surgery, so we're conscious on a level that we probably wouldn't ordinarily be. It was my father having heart surgery 10 years ago that convinced me to get my cholesterol checked. I found out my number was 151, and the doctors told me, "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it, because your cholesterol is low." That encouraged me to stay with a healthy diet, continue eating leafy greens, and try to cut back on saturated fat. Because it's better to maintain what's good now than try to fix what's gone wrong later.Is that how you got involved with the American Heart Association?
KR: Yes, and Regis's heart scare was a reminder to stay on top of the issue. As women, we're more interested in stuff that affects us immediately rather than thinking long-term. I also support the HEART for Women Act, which asks the government for funding for women and heart disease awareness. [Go to www.fitnessmagazine.com/heart for more info.] I think one of the biggest contributors to heart disease is portion size -- Americans don't know what a healthy portion looks like. We had a nutrition expert on our show, and she showed us portions of fish, chicken, and meat. You think, If someone brought that to me at a restaurant, I'd send it back and say where's the rest of it? We are definitely overfed.What does your husband say about your new fitness kick?
KR: The great thing about Mark is that he's so encouraging. When I was pregnant with my first son and I gained 68 pounds, Mark made me feel like the Queen of Sheba every day -- "You're so beautiful, you're so gorgeous." It's nice to have a partner who notices things like, "Wow, that was impressive, you ran down to the water and back and you shaved four minutes off your time." At this point, we've been married too long for him to say, "Oh, you look so hot in that!"
KR: When I look at my reflection in the mirror, I try to remind myself, "Aren't I lucky that my body is working right now?" And that for me sort of gets my mind in the right place.Any confidence-boosting tricks?
KR: I buy jeans that are tight in the rear end. I'm not kidding. I treat my cheeks like breasts in a push-up bra. I just reach down in there, lift them up and push them together. And they'll stay put if the jeans are tight enough in the seat. Think of your jeans as a big denim push-up bra.Do you think that men obsess over their appearance the way women do?
KR: Men care about appearance far more than they'd ever admit. Women will say to other women, "My butt looks big in these jeans." Men would never say that. But I like to think, in the privacy of their home, they change outfits 15 times too.
KR: My husband is the funniest person on earth. He's a brilliant mimic -- I tell him he missed his calling as a cast member of Saturday Night Live. He'll do me in my Physique 57 exercise class, right down to his putting the ball between his thighs and doing the exercises. It is comical.What's the one question you keep waiting to be asked?
KR: "What does it feel like to be a sex bomb?" And nobody's asked me! Because, you know, it's difficult. It's a lot of pressure to carry around.... Seriously, I'm an open book. Mark says the problem with me is that if you don't read me fast enough, I'll turn the pages for you.
Heart disease is the number-one killer of women, but more than 90 percent of doctors don't know that more females than males die from it every year, according to the American Heart Association. This winter, Congress is expected to vote on the Heart Disease Education, Analysis and Research, and Treatment (HEART) for Women Act, which would authorize grants to educate doctors and nurses about such things as the effects of gender on drug effectiveness, provide gender-specific data to clinicians and researchers, and improve screening for low-income women at risk for heart disease and stroke.