On any given episode of Watchmen, the HBO series where masked vigilantes take on white supremacists in an alternate universe, actor Regina King may shatter a solid glass door, chase down a high-speed runner, or single-handedly push a casket into a grave. King plays police detective Angela Abar, aka Sister Night, a superhero vigilante who pursues villains in the name of justice. Getting physical and kicking butt is all in a day’s work.
Here’s the fun part: King is 49, or as she likes to say, almost half a century. Sure, there are moments when she defers to her stunt double, knowing her body doesn’t recover like it did at 25, but she’s a physical person by nature and being fit is a given. “I’m a great example of the idea that you are how you feel,” King says. “If you feel old, then you are. If you feel young, you’re young.”
At a time when many actors, especially women of color, find good roles hard to come by, King is at the top of her game, playing complex female characters and receiving accolades for her work. She recently won a Critics’ Choice Award for best actress in a drama series for Watchmen, an Oscar for best supporting actress for the film If Beale Street Could Talk, and three Emmy Awards for two television series: Seven Seconds and American Crime.
While King is hardly new to the game -- her first acting job was on the 1980s sitcom 227 -- her career has steadily climbed from supporting roles in movies and television series like Jerry Maguire, Boyz in the Hood, Southland, and 24 to full-on movie star.
Recently, King has also stepped behind the camera, directing TV shows like This Is Us, Scandal, and Insecure; and her first feature film, One Night in Miami, an adaptation of the Kemp Powers play about a pivotal gathering between Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke, and football star Jim Brown.
As physically demanding as playing a superhero can be, King says directing One Night in Miami, which was filmed recently in New Orleans, was even more grueling.
“You’re using so much more brain power,” she explains. “There’s shooting and there’s prep. A typical day probably runs 16 hours.” In her limited downtime, her first priority was sleep. She scraped together time for stretching, but full-blown workouts were elusive.
That was challenging because when King doesn’t exercise, she feels off. “You know how some people get sore when they work out? I get sore if I’m not working out,” she says.
King’s normal fitness routine centers on personal trainer-led workouts three times a week. “I do well with a trainer because it makes me get up and go. I don’t like spending money and wasting it,” she says.
While she used to lift weights, now she opts for exercises that use her body weight, like resistance training and plyometrics. That’s perfect for an onscreen superhero, says Eva Barrington, CPT, co-owner of Bolder Fitness in Los Angeles. “To get that lean, sculpted, strong body, you need resistance training in your regimen,” she says.
Bodyweight exercises like lunges, crunches, and push-ups build strength quickly and effectively. Plyometrics, which are explosive exercises like squat jumps and burpees, are great for building power and stamina while torching calories, Barrington says.
King also hikes the hills near her Los Angeles home with her dog, a 14-year-old Shepherd-Labrador-Akita mix. It’s a cardio workout that fires up her calves, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hip stabilizers, Barrington says. King’s best advice for getting in shape? “Get a dog. It’s built-in exercise,” she says. “Not a cat. A dog. And not a little lap dog who’ll just walk to the corner.”
Healthy eating habits also keep King in peak condition. “Every morning I have half an avocado and a big, giant bowl of mixed green vegetables,” she says. Often in the mix are green beans, broccoli, kale, sugar-snap peas, and spinach. A glass of green juice completes the meal.
Lunch is typically a big salad topped with a protein like fish or lamb. Dinner varies and depends on where and when she’s filming. King tries not to snack, but she believes in balance. “It’s OK if you want to eat a cookie,” she says.
She’s quick to add that everyone’s different. Just because these eating habits work for her doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone. “My overall thoughts are to pay attention to my body and my mind, and not to compare myself to someone else,” she says.
Staying in Control
Eating well isn’t only important for King’s work. It’s vital for her life. “High blood pressure runs on both sides of my family,” she says, adding that high cholesterol, which is linked to high blood pressure, also runs on her mother’s side. “My eldest sister passed away from blood pressure-related issues.”
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often called the “silent killer.” “Most of the time, there are no obvious symptoms,” says Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, a preventive cardiologist from New York and national Go Red for Women volunteer. “When left untreated, high blood pressure can be a significant contributing factor to heart attack, stroke, and other heart health threats, including death.”
Tens of millions of Americans have high blood pressure. It may be caused by lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, being overweight, poor sleep, too much alcohol, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and stress. It also runs in families. “If your parents or another relative like a grandparent or sibling has high blood pressure, there’s an increased chance that you may develop it, too,” Steinbaum says.
It’s a common misconception that it rarely affects women. “However,” Steinbaum says, “nearly half of all adults with high blood pressure are women, and 56% of African American women over age 20 have it.”
Many people don’t know they have high blood pressure. The easiest way to find out is to see a doctor. If you have it, you can manage it by knowing your numbers, working closely with your doctor, and making healthy lifestyle choices like eating well, exercising, and quitting smoking. “For some people, medication is needed,” Steinbaum says.
“I was able to keep my blood pressure and cholesterol down with diet until about a year ago,” King says. “Now I take a really small dose of Lipitor. That helps keep it at normal levels.”
Rounding out King’s healthy lifestyle are weekend massages and stress management techniques like deep breathing.
When a day doesn’t go as planned, or when she can’t step away from a film set to regroup, she relies on slow breathing. “It’s breathing in for 8 seconds, holding it for 8 seconds, then releasing it for 8 seconds,” she says. “I do that all the time. All my life.”
King learned the technique from a book her mother once gave her, The Little Me and the Great Me, which teaches children when they’re on the verge of misbehaving to breathe in their higher self and breathe out their smaller self.
It came in handy when she was deep in production on One Night in Miami and missing her son, Ian, 24, who lives in Los Angeles. When certain scenes left her raw and emotional, she’d flash to her son and crave a comforting hug. Instead of crying in a corner, she says, she simply breathed.
King and Ian have a unique relationship. “I was 25 when I had him, so I grew up with my son,” she says. Remember what King said earlier about not comparing herself to others? That’s a lesson she learned back then.
When Ian was a toddler, she questioned her parenting skills based on other people’s opinions. But when he was 3 or 4, that changed. King’s friends, who had older children and were confident about parenting, advised her to shift her mindset. “Don’t let someone else tell you how you should be mothering your child,” they said. “Every child is different. What works for one child doesn’t work for another.”
This resonated deeply. And it reinforced what her mother had always taught her: Be yourself and use your voice. It’s still a guiding principle. But her voice isn’t the only one she’s interested in. King actively seeks diverse perspectives—not as a barometer of how she’s doing, but for a deeper understanding of others and a richer experience of the world.
“You don’t want to just surround yourself with people that are like you and have the same taste as you,” she says. “To expand your experiences and get a better understanding of other people’s experiences, it’s necessary to put yourself in situations where you’re meeting people from different places.”
And so, as King gets into costume and readies herself for a particular scene, whether she’s playing a vigilante or a real-life director, one thing’s for sure. Her preparation for the role is a compilation of experiences and insights she’s gained over the years.
“The beauty of it all is the wisdom,” King says. “I’ve made it almost half a century, and I’m able to employ the wisdom that I’ve gained along the way.”
Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Choices
To keep your blood pressure in check, try these tips from the American Heart Association.
- Eat well. Strive for a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy products, nuts, legumes, and healthy oils.
- Eat less salt. Foods that are high in sodium can raise your blood pressure.
- Limit foods that put you at risk. That includes saturated fats and trans fats, which are known to raise your cholesterol, as well as red meat, sweets, and sugary drinks.
- Be active. Exercise isn’t just great for managing your weight and lowering your stress. It strengthens your heart and helps you control high blood pressure.
- Manage stress. There may be a link between stress and high blood pressure. Stress can also lead to drinking and poor eating habits, both of which bump up your risk.
- Lose weight. If you’re overweight, even a small change goes a long way. Losing just 5 to 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure.
- Quit smoking and limit your drinking. Smoking puts you at a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Too much alcohol may raise your blood pressure.
- Partner with your doctor to monitor your blood pressure, make healthy lifestyle choices, and manage your medication.
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