In 2006, Queen Latifah's mother Rita Owens was diagnosed with heart failure. Since then, the 46-year-old actress and her family have dedicated themselves to leading heart-healthy lifestyles by focusing on smart diet changes and getting plenty of exercise. The experience also inspired Latifah to join the American Heart Association's Rise Above Heart Failure movement to help spread awareness for the condition, which affects 5.7 million people in the United States. We had the chance to speak to the actress about her mom's journey—as well as how her own life has changed since the diagnosis.
When did you start realizing how important heart health is?
I’ve always felt like heart health was important, but I haven’t necessarily lived my life that way. I think when it really became important was [during] my mom’s diagnosis of heart failure. Heart health was immediately put at the forefront of our lives, and just walking through this process with her has taught me so much. She’s helping me to be stronger by just taking this journey with her.
After your mom’s diagnosis, did you make any lifestyle changes?
One of the first changes we started to make was really getting a handle on her diet and liquid intake. The journey just changed the way we looked at food. I think food should be healing; it’s something that can help heal your body. So, learning to shop in different ways and make different food selections. Taking the salt down. Eliminating as much salt in your diet as possible. And then starting to find restaurants that you might like to eat at and things on the menu that are less salty. And your taste buds do adjust, because mine adjusted. I can’t really eat salty foods now. And also looking at the things that we drank—making sure we weren’t drinking really salty or sugary drinks. My mom never really drank a lot of soda, but it was more like finding things to drink that could give you more nutrition. Maybe blending your juices at home, and making sure that if you’re drinking, you’re not just drinking a soda or an iced tea, but something with some actual nutrition in it. We decided to look at things differently and I think our whole family—because we all are eating and shopping together—it changed our whole outlook on what we ate and drank.
Along with the changes you’ve made with your diet, did you and your family also make an effort to be more active?
I’ve always enjoyed hiking. I usually even go to a hiking boot camp at least once a year where I go away for six or seven days and just hike. I think yoga’s a great thing to do, and I’ve been doing more Pilates, but hiking is great because I like to be in nature. I like to be outside in the fresh air. We’re fortunate enough to be in a place here [in California] that affords us that year-round. But even when I’m home in New Jersey, I’ve found hiking trails and parks to just be outside as much as possible. It really feeds my mind as well as my body. Biking, swimming, getting in water. Every once in a while I get to play some tennis.
Any advice that you would give to people that are trying to be healthier?
Do things you enjoy. Obviously it’s great if we can exercise at least half an hour a day, five days a week. But I think it’s more that it becomes an actual lifestyle change where you just incorporate this into your life. Not necessarily just in the gym, but getting out in nature and just exploring. I think the more you incorporate these things into your normal life, it’s helpful. And really taking time to decompress. Sit still, stretch before bed and when you wake up, and take a moment to just breathe and be still for a minute before you get into your busy, busy day. I find that that helps me a lot.
Anything else you’d like our readers to know about heart health?
I hope that everyone will check out riseabovehf.org, and if you know someone dealing with heart failure, they should check out the website. There’s a lot of tools and guides—not just for patients and caregivers, but also doctors. There’s so much good information on there and it can be very empowering for people who are in the same situation as myself and my family. I think they will find a lot to relate to. And sometimes it can be very helpful to know there’s other people, just like you, going through the same issues, the same struggles, or the same triumphs, and you can share those things.
This interview has been edited and condensed.