How Queen Latifah Is Fighting Heart Disease In Her Family
Andrew Toth/FilmMagic

It was life-changing for Queen Latifah to learn that her mother’s heart had weakened and she now has heart failure. “I was in shock. That was a terrifying thing to hear,” she recalls. “But I was right next to my mom, so I had to keep the game face on. It was about being supportive of her.”

The initial jolt set the wheels in motion: “We started to get information about what exactly was going on with her heart and what we could do,” Latifah says. “She was prescribed certain medications and changed her diet. Her heart improved.”

Since 2015 Latifah and her mom, Rita Owens, have teamed up with the American Heart Association’s Rise Above Heart Failure effort, which is supported by Novartis. This year the initiative’s Red Steps Challenge encourages Americans to take “red steps” to a healthier life in honor of the nearly 6 million Americans living with heart failure.

“The notion of heart disease being the number one killer of women is something we sometimes forget,” she shares. Latifah got her own wake-up call on taking care of our hearts. “My trainer, Jeanette Jenkins, said to me once, “If we could see our bodies from the inside the way we see it from the outside, we would take much better care of ourselves.” You can’t really see your heart the way you see your eyes, lips or hips when you look in the mirror.”

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But out of sight does not mean out of mind. “If we could see how our hearts were feeling or how our lungs were doing, then it would probably be a different story for us,” she adds. “You have to listen to your body and heart, and take care of it. Then see your doctor. It is a team effort.”

With a full plate as a producer, performer and television host and a leading role in Lee Daniels’s new series Star, Latifah also proudly wears the hat as caregiver for her mom. “I’m always making sure that there are fresh fruits, vegetables and healthy snacks,” she says. “We cook a lot. At restaurants you can’t really control the salt that is put into your food. When we do eat out, we make healthier choices from their menus. The simple things make a big difference.”

Youth does not protect us from heart ailments, a fact Toshawa Andrews learned the hard way. “My doctors suspect I had five heart attacks before age 35,” shares the Fight the Ladykiller ambassador on the organization’s Web site. “None came with classic symptoms, but any one of them could have killed me. It was after the birth of my third child that I said, “No more.” My coronary microvascular disease is now under control. If you want to stop the ladykiller, you have to face it head-on.”

By 2030, more than four in ten Americans are projected to have cardiovascular disease, with high blood pressure being a leading contributor. Eating healthy, staying active, limiting alcohol and eliminating smoking all minimize risks for diagnosis. September 29 is World Heart Day. Join the global celebration by committing to take care of your ticker.