Ian Somerhalder: Vampire/Activist

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on July 15, 2013
From the WebMD Archives

Ian Somerhalder wants to be the bad guy again. As vampire Damon Salvatore on the CW's hit series The Vampire Diaries, his role has evolved over the show's first four seasons. In season five, which airs this fall, he hopes to return to his villainous roots.

"In season one, Damon was extremely dangerous, volatile, and unpredictable," Somerhalder, 34, says as he takes a break from shooting the last few episodes of season four in Atlanta. "I hope to bring that Damon back."

Damon sinks his fangs into throats on TV, but in real life, Somerhalder wants to save the world. In 2010 he launched his eponymous IS Foundation, which focuses on environmental issues, champions green energy, and fights against animal cruelty. "This was an idea that had been percolating for a while," says Somerhalder, "but the true catalyst, what really pulled the trigger, was the BP oil spill."

For Somerhalder, a Louisiana native who grew up near New Orleans, the 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico hit close to home. As massive amounts of oil flooded the coast, Somerhalder seethed. "It left me feeling helpless, and I don't ever want to feel like that again."

The IS Foundation

Over the past 2 and a half years, the foundation has supported a successful campaign to toughen animal cruelty laws in British Columbia; partnered in the production of "Blue August," a weeklong TV series on Discovery's Planet Green network (now the Destination America network) celebrating the diversity of the ocean; created an animal sanctuary for outcast pets; and broken ground on a farm that will showcase sustainable agriculture.

Today, Somerhalder says, the foundation has 90 crews, representing 24 countries. The vast majority of these crews are made up of college and university students. Last fall, for example, the foundation's Green Your Thirst campaign got under way. It aims to educate students about the environmental impact of bottled water and to encourage them to work toward a bottled-water-free campus.

The IS Foundation also recently launched a college advisory board. It's made up of 15 students from around the world who will help expand the foundation's educational efforts and activism at colleges and universities everywhere. "This is a really cool, globally diverse group of people," Somerhalder says of the board members, each of whom will serve 6-month terms. "Our mission is to empower young adults to take a stand on global issues, to become a force for positive change."

Ian Somerhalder: 'My Health Is Wildly Important to Me'

Somerhalder's passion for the planet and all the creatures on it -- including himself -- runs deep. "My health's wildly important to me," he says. "I wouldn't have the stamina and energy for 80-hour work weeks without good health." To stay in shape, Somerhalder likes speed walking, yoga, basketball -- anything, really, that doesn't involve a gym and gets him outdoors. He reads and meditates to relax.

And although his on-screen diet is blood-based, in real life he has a much more humane and nutritious approach. He loads up his plate with fruits and vegetables, sticks to lean meats, and eats lots of healthy whole grains, like quinoa. And eating right means more than just nutrition. In keeping with his foundation's mission, he seeks out foods that are produced by sustainable methods and farmed humanely.

Doing all this good for himself and the planet keeps Somerhalder busy off-screen. In his on-screen life, he doesn't know where the show's writers will take the story, but, he says, "Damon was the bad boy, and I miss that guy."

Health Tips From Ian Somerhalder

Fight stress with exercise. "If you're stressed out and wound up, go for a 1-, 2-, or 3-mile run and see what happens. Push your body, and your body will produce the chemicals that make you feel better."

Stay focused on your health. "You've got to be really committed to it. You've got to plan for it. And you've got to make it a habit. You're going to get a lot more out of your brain and your body if you take care of both."

Think positively. "You've got to be really careful about what's going on in that noggin of yours. Keep it full of really positive stuff and that's what you manifest in your life. I know it sounds clichéd, but it's true, man, and I'm glad I learned that."

Don't stop learning. "I'm excited for people to learn more and put more stock in what's happening with their world, with their bodies, what they're putting into it, what they're getting out of it."

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Ian Somerhalder, actor; founder, IS Foundation.

IS Foundation.

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