Chances are your handbag is better equipped to deal with a broken nail than a heart attack, according to a new survey. But actress Vanessa Williams says a simple addition could—and should—change all that. She’s teamed up with Bayer HealthCare and WomenHeart to launch Handbags & Hearts, a national campaign to encourage women to stash aspirin in their purse in case of a sudden heart attack. We caught up with Williams, a mom of four, while she was taking a break from her Tony-nominated Broadway show The Trip To Bountiful. Here, she shares five ways we can all make heart health a priority.
1. Know Your Family History “Both my grandmothers died of heart issues,” reveals Williams. “My mom’s mother died at 64, but my dad’s mother died at 28 of a heart attack. We’ve been hyperaware of heart issues my entire life.” Williams values the importance of family and makes sure to stay close even if she’s all the way across the country. “My children always know that I’m present and available,” says the actress, author and singer whose youngest, Sasha, is 13 years old. “That’s the wonderful thing about FaceTime and texting. If there’s a question, they can see my face, hear my voice, read my words. I’m always available.”
2. Squeeze In A Good Workout Heart attacks take the lives of 250,000 women each year. “You’ve got to make time for exercise,” says Williams who says showing up for a class at a gym helps keep her accountable. “Or try getting up an hour early for your workout. Or if you want to watch TV, jump on a treadmill while you’re doing it.” Mixing things up also makes her passionate about moving. Right now she's is all about cardio-kickboxing, a heavy-bag class, yoga and dance.
3. Say Goodbye to Stress “You can alleviate stress by staying fit, meditating and relaxing, but it’s also a mindset,” says Williams who co-wrote You Have No Idea with her mother, Helen Williams. “If you want to get stressed out, you will. When you feel like you’re losing control of your balance, you have to remember to breathe.” One of her favorite ways to unwind: music.
4. Don’t Buy The Bad Stuff It’s the easiest way to avoid telling your kids to not eat that candy or that they’ve had too much soda. “If you don’t have it in the house, the temptation is gone,” says Williams. “It takes extra effort to indulge if it’s not as close as the kitchen.” One thing in particular she hopes moms will pass on buying more often: processed foods. “They're the easiest to prepare, but not the best,” she says. “Instead have the right basics in your refrigerator so you don’t have to reach for processed foods.”
5. Stock Your Pocketbook “You can lessen the risk of major damage from a heart attack if you take aspirin immediately,” says Williams. But that aspirin has to be readily available and what better place than your purse? Check out the Handbags & Hearts site where you’ll also learn signs of a heart attack that are unique to women and mouse clicks can turn into up to $200,000 in donations for WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease Heart Disease.