Losing Her Mom To Heart Disease Is The Reason Angela Bassett, 59, Takes Such Great Care Of Herself

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For all of us looking from the outside in, Angela Bassett seems to be the picture of health. At 59, she’s in impeccable shape, her skin glows, and there is no denying the youthfulness she’s been able to maintain. But you would never know that many in her family have struggled with Type 2 diabetes. Bassett’s uncle has it and her mother actually passed away from heart disease caused by her diabetes a few years ago. Ever since that loss, she’s been part of an important campaign called For Your SweetHeart. It’s a movement looking to raise awareness about the connection between Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It’s a link we should be more informed of, because 52 percent of adults with the disease do not understand their increased risks.

We talked to Bassett about honoring her mother ahead of Mother’s Day through this campaign, and how the struggles her loved ones have faced with this disease is the reason she takes such great care of her herself.

MadameNoire: Growing up, do you remember the way that your family ate and the type of diet that your mother allowed? Was any of it things you felt could have contributed to her Type 2 diagnosis and the prevalence of it in your family?

Angela Bassett: You know, it may have, and when I look at my family, I think that it’s quite possible that it didn’t help. Growing up in the South, we would have the typical Southern cuisine. The soul food. And of course, I’m a child. I’m eating what’s in front of me. As I get older and learned more, then I see it wasn’t the healthiest or that better choices could have been made even within that cuisine. But she was a single mom, you know, and growing up in the ’70s, that was a time where food choices were being developed to be easier for mothers and families to deal with. So it may have been the TV dinners. You know, the convenience foods. We thought they were healthy. And then you would go to family get-togethers, and everything’s fried and there’s the potato salad and vegetables are cooked within an inch of their lives [laughs]. Not a nutrient left. And she was also a proponent, which is I think is where I get it, of sweets. She tried to educate herself, but it came about a little too late.

How has your mother’s struggles with her health and your uncle’s Type 2 diagnosis impacted how you go about taking care of your own health, and that of your kids?

I would say because of that, I pay very close attention to my health. She had Type 2 diabetes and died from heart disease, and we were very much unaware of the connection between Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. My uncle also having it allows it to remain a very big part of our family story. I make sure that I set a good example at home for my kids so that it won’t be their story as well. Part of what I’ve been so blessed to be able to do is join the For Your Sweetheart campaign. I don’t know if people know that there’s a very real serious connection between Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and the need to understand their risk for heart disease and to talk to their doctors about taking action. So I want to encourage everyone to go to ForYourSweetHeart.com and take the Heart You Quiz. You’ll get more information about that connection.

So is the loss of your mother what encouraged you to become an advocate for informing people about the link between heart disease and diabetes?

Yes, it’s very personal to me. You know, my mom was my sweetheart. She was the one who encouraged me to follow my dream. She was the one who was a cheerleader in my corner. When I would perform, you know, just to see her light up, as a young person, I felt like I could really do this impossible thing. For me, it’s just a way to continue her legacy of support and encouragement of others. So that’s what was in my heart when I joined the campaign. If you have diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, you’re four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. She’s been gone for about four years now. I miss her tremendously and wish I had that information, you know, the information I have now. I wish I had that then. I wish we both had that then. I cherish what she did for my life and meant to my life and the lives of others. If I feel that way, I know other children and mothers, you know, other women and men, I know they feel that way about their loved ones going through this as well.

Speaking of health, what is the key to keeping such a youthful glow at 59? Your skin is so clear and tight and your body is in fantastic shape. How do you do it?

I’m glad it appears that way [laughs]. I certainly do try to work on it, you know? I definitely make sure I go to my family doctor every year. I do that around my birthday. I make sure I do that just because, you know, you look good, look one way on the outside, but the inside could be telling a completely different story in terms of your heart and this intricate system that keeps us living and breathing. So that definitely is a key, finding a great doctor and you know, being in communication that way. But I also work out as much as I can. Sometimes, especially with the schedule that I keep, it’s difficult. But if you can, get into some sort of a rhythm of, maybe three times a week doing something. You could start with just walking. Because when you lose that ability, you lose your independence. So keep that going. Whatever it is you enjoy doing, find something that you enjoy doing physically and that you can maintain. Find someone to do it with if you need some motivation. You might say, “I don’t need motivation today, but tomorrow I think I might need motivation. I’m going to meet somebody at the gym, I’m going to make an appointment and we’re going to help each other out.” And you know, I think that’s the key. And just having a positive attitude and always trying to better yourself.

I saw you just went on vacation to St. Lucia, which is an experience hard to top. But what do you envision to be the perfect way to celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday?

With family. With the ones you cherish most. I don’t know what it would be ’cause it’s going to be a surprise [laughs]. It’s going to be all right. It will top St. Lucia. They know I like theater and performances.

You are everywhere right now. You are on 9-1-1, you were just in Black Panther of course, and you are in the upcoming Mission Impossible sequel. What has been the key to career longevity for you when ageism tends to slow down the progress of others?

I think pretty much along the lines of what we’re talking about today, you know, it’s about keeping yourself together. Being mindful of your health, mentally, physically, emotionally. And as an artist, keeping your instrument in tune. Always researching and watching others and being excited about the work others are doing. And you know, just being ready to do it yourself when the moment hits. I think that probably has been the key. And just persevere and give the full measure of your devotion to whatever work your hands have to do this day. You know you’ve got more to give tomorrow, but we don’t have tomorrow. We have today.

Learn more about this initiative at For Your SweetHeart.com, and check out Bassett in Mission Impossible: Fallout on July 27, and Season 2 of 9-1-1.

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