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Olympia Dukakis: Health Activist

From caring for a mother diagnosed with Alzheimer's to working with polio patients, the award-winning actress takes her own health and the health of others seriously.


What stuck with you most from that period, working with polio victims?

How little I really knew about life. It really hit me. I'd never seen such suffering. And the parents, I had never seen people in such despair, so broken.

Are there any moments that stand out in your mind?

There was a pregnant woman who gave birth on a respirator in Duluth. There was a little boy, Daniel, the first patient I had that died in Marmet, W.Va. I walked into the room and his father, this great big mountain man, was sobbing. And his mother, this little thin woman, was on her knees, at the window, praying.

Back to your own life, what is the best health advice anyone has ever given you?

To drink a lot of water, at least six to eight glasses a day. I think the body needs it. Sometimes I ask myself, Did I drink enough water? If not, things start happening. Our bowels are not right; my skin is this. I'm not sleeping well. And I just go back and make sure I drink the water, and I even myself out again.

What is your best health habit? Your worst?

I make sure I get exercise. I do yoga and Pilates and I walk. My worst is, I stay up too late. I need to make sure I get eight hours of sleep every day.

How did having children and being a parent change you?

I'm not as self-centered. I'm more understanding of what other people go through. It's changed me from being an idealist to a realist. I don't believe in these idealized versions of family.

What do you do for relaxation?

I love concerts and music and dance theater. I read a great deal. I like to be with friends and have a nice dinner -- talk, laugh, gossip, and get outraged about today's government.

You mentioned earlier that you had osteoporosis. Since it often has no symptoms, how did your diagnosis come about?

I was having trouble with my hip, and my doctor X-rayed it. He told me I could walk off a sidewalk and fracture it. And he said I needed to ... start with hormone therapy. [Editor's note: Hormone therapy is not right for all women. Talk with your doctor.]

Did you do anything else to treat it?

You change your diet, and make sure you get calcium. I also take one of the bisphosphonates, an osteoporosis drug that slows bone loss, something that starts with women in their 30s. And weight-bearing exercises, getting in the sun at least 20 minutes a day for vitamin D, and knowing which foods have the most calcium.

Reviewed on April 09, 2007

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