Last May, between seasons of her megahit NBC television series This Is Us, actor Mandy Moore, who plays mother-of-three Rebecca Pearson, took on Mount Everest.
On a weeklong excursion with a group of hikers led by a professional guide, Moore, 35, trekked through the Himalayas to reach Everest Base Camp (elevation: 17,500 feet). No, she didn't climb to the top of the world's highest peak -- that's an endeavor that takes 2 months and serious mountaineer training -- but it was monumental for someone who's spent the last 5 years reclaiming her life. "I'm trying to enjoy things and challenge myself," Moore says. "I'm kind of stepping into my power, owning who I am and what it's taken to bring me here."
For the better part of a decade, Moore felt like she was drifting.
At 14, she was "discovered" for her singing talent and was quickly signed by Epic Records. When her first single, "Candy," sped to the top of the Billboard charts, she burst into the spotlight alongside teen-pop idols like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. Not long after, she tackled acting, landing roles in movies like The Princess Diaries and A Walk to Remember.
"I was thrust into an adult world that was really unexpected. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and working hard," she says. "Then in my mid- to late 20s, I allowed myself to take my foot off the gas and coast. I allowed myself to be a drifter."
In 2009, Moore married singer-songwriter Ryan Adams. She didn't immediately realize it, but her marriage took a toll on her emotional health and on her music. "I found myself in a relationship where I allowed myself to be as insignificant as possible to make the other person more comfortable," she says. "I allowed the idea of music and my role in music and the role of music in my life to be diminished because I was intimidated. I wanted to allow as much room as possible for this other person and what he was doing, so I just kind of abandoned it."
Six years later, they split up. "I realized I couldn't keep going like this," she says. Moore missed music and acting, and she felt rudderless: "I realized how deeply unhappy I was and how deeply unhealthy the situation was, and that if I wanted to reclaim my life, I had to do the work and take the steps to dig myself out."
With the help of friends, family, journaling, and therapy, she started rebuilding herself and her life. Talking about her struggles and reflecting on her choices and what motivated them was key -- and it still is. "I'm constantly examining things," she says.
Off on the Right Foot
Last November, Moore married musician and Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith. On their honeymoon to Chile, the newly hitched duo hiked -- and hiked and hiked. It wasn't their first time: They'd already scaled Mount Kilimanjaro. Nor was it the last. Last spring, they trekked through New Zealand.
It isn't just sky-high summits and far-flung destinations that draw Moore to hiking. On weekends, when she isn't lolling around her Los Angeles home with Goldsmith and their three cats and two dogs, she loves lacing up and heading to a local trail.
"I'm really interested in getting into the slightly more technical side of climbing and being able to go on peaks like Mount Rainier and Mount Baker," she says. "But for now, I'm sticking to just slowly walking uphill and enjoying the surroundings. I find it so meditative and grounding. It's sort of the perfect cure-all."
She's onto something. Studies suggest exercising in nature restores your emotional well-being and relieves stress. It's also a stellar physical workout. It strengthens your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and core, and raises your heart rate for a cardio workout.
Note: If you're considering stepping up to Moore's level, it takes serious training to prepare for long days climbing and descending and the physical demands of extreme altitude. "Going up too fast, which many people do, significantly increases your chances of developing altitude illness, which can be fatal," says Eric A. Weiss, MD, a professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Attempting to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain is another level entirely. "At a minimum, one would need to prepare both physically and mentally and acquire the requisite mountaineering skill set before attempting Everest," says Weiss. He says you'd need experience climbing technical mountains above 5,000 meters and can't simply rely on a guide service to get you to the summit and back. The conditions are hazardous, and overcrowding has become a big problem. This year alone, at least 11 people died on Mount Everest.
Along the Way
To stay fit, Moore supplements her hikes with trainer-led workouts and gym classes. "I try to do it at least three to four times a week to get the blood flowing," she says. She also watches what she eats. Moore has digestive issues and gluten sensitivity, which often leads to bloating, gas, and lethargy. After seeing various doctors, doing bloodwork, and having an upper endoscopy and colonoscopy, she knows it's not celiac disease. But she still isn't sure of the cause. "The only thing that's helped is a food sensitivity panel," she says.
"Food sensitivities are a common cause of lethargy, bloating, and gas," says Peyton Berookim, MD, director of the Gastroenterology Institute of Southern California. "Food sensitivity panels can help identify specific foods a person may be sensitive to. Eliminating them can improve or prevent symptoms."
Moore discovered that along with a bacterial overgrowth in her small intestine, for which she takes supplements, she's sensitive to several of her favorite foods, like salmon. "I was a huge salmon fan -- I had it pretty much every day! No wonder I felt bad all the time," she says. Salmon is now out of the equation, along with dairy, beef, gluten, and soybeans.
Her new staples are eggs, chicken, cod, and halibut. She and Goldsmith are big snackers, so they often reach for almonds, cashews, macadamias, and nut cheeses. She also loves homemade gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, which she makes with almond flour. Plus, it's easy to find healthy options around town. "We live in Los Angeles, the land of salads and green juices," she says.
Staying healthy helps Moore deliver the goods onscreen. Simply sitting in the makeup chair to prepare for This Is Us requires endurance. "It takes about 3½ hours to be present-day Rebecca. It took 6 hours to be Rebecca in the future," she says.
One of the hallmarks of the show is its use of timelines, jumping between flashbacks, present day, and flash-forwards. Moore plays Rebecca at different ages, from her mid-20s to her mid-80s, which she says is the most gratifying experience she's ever had.
It's also a role that landed Moore her first Emmy nomination -- for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series this year. (The winner will be announced Sept. 22.)
Moore hints we'll see more of "future Rebecca," who first appeared in last year's season finale, but not necessarily right away. "I think they're going to parse it out and save it for a little bit later," she says. (The show was recently renewed for three seasons.) This season, she says, will focus on the courtship of young Jack and Rebecca, which she's thrilled about. "We get to go back to the '70s," says Moore. "I love those happy-go-lucky days working with Milo [Ventimiglia]. And the fun clothes!"
Moore is also excited about her upcoming movie, Midway, which premieres in November and stars Dennis Quaid. "It's a big, sweeping, epic war saga about the Battle of Midway, a pivotal naval battle that took place in the Pacific Ocean midway through World War II," she says.
With her acting career on solid ground, Moore is setting her sights on doing more of what she's passionate about. "I can't wait to have a family. I can't wait to continue this career trajectory that I started 20 years ago," she says. One week after Everest, for the first time in years, Moore returned to the recording studio.
"In Nepal, I was thinking a lot about the things that scare me. I was thinking about the rest of the year, about the next 5 years, like, 'What do you want to do? What's holding you back?' " she says.
Moore had an epiphany: Instead of letting other people's definitions of her as a musician hold her back, it was time to reclaim her music. "I was thinking, 'What prevents me from just getting out there and having some small performances here in Los Angeles?' It doesn't have to be the end-all, be-all," she says. The way to scale a mountain, after all, is one step at a time.
"It's taken me to this point to recognize I have the power to control the narrative, the projects that I want to do, the people I want to work with, and how I choose to spend my time," she says. "I haven't put out a record in over a decade, but I'm not nervous anymore. I'm invigorated and excited to put that behind me and plow forward into the future."
Take a Hike!
Inspired to hit the trails like Mandy Moore? Get off on the right foot with these tips.
- Check the weather. If a rainstorm is in the forecast, reschedule.
- Always tell someone where you're going and when you plan to return.
- Wear good hiking shoes to avoid aches, pains, and blisters. Carry tape or moleskin for blisters and hotspots.
- Not sure what you need? The American Hiking Society suggests good footwear, a map and compass or GPS, water, food, extra clothes or raingear, a safety light and whistle, first aid, a multipurpose tool, sunscreen, and a daypack.
- Bring easy-to-carry, nonperishable snacks like trail mix, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, energy bars, and jerky.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water before a hike, and carry 2 cups for every hour.
- Go at your own pace. Take rest breaks when you need them.
- Start easy and work your way up with distance, time, and hills.
- Mix it up. Try converted railway trails, dirt paths, city parks, or wilderness trails.
- Ready for the next level? Pick up your pace, try steeper trails, or carry a backpack with weight in it.
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