Susan Lucci is a beloved soap-opera star, Emmy Award-Winning actress and a New York Times best-selling author. Now Lucci has transferred her fervent energy to a larger cause—heart disease awareness. As an advocate, Lucci teamed up with the American Heart Association Go Red for Women movement to help spread awareness and hopefully save lives following her own cardiac events—twice over. Lucci tells us that there is significantly more research done on heart disease in men even though it’s the number-one killer of women: “It kills more women every year than all cancers put together.”
Three years ago, after her first cardiac event, Lucci knew she was lucky and turned to her publicist to ask if there was a way she could tell her story to “pass this good luck forward.” She didn’t fully comprehend the fatal risk of heart disease until she experienced it firsthand. “I can pass on what I’ve learned to women—to give yourself permission to put yourself on your to-do list, to take care of yourself. That’s not selfish. That allows you to live in the lives of the people who love you and who you love.”
What cardiac symptoms should women be aware of?
“First of all, women should be aware that sometimes women’s symptoms for heart attack or heart disease can be different than men’s. Sometimes they’re the same, but oftentimes they’re different or there are additional symptoms. I had heard an interview that a woman recorded about her symptoms, and that’s how I knew that I was in some distress.
She felt that an elephant was pressing on her chest, that was the best way to describe it, and I agreed with that very much. That’s what I was feeling—intense pressure on my chest. I also had shortness of breath, and I was feeling discomfort radiating around my ribcage from the front to the back. Those are very classic symptoms for a woman. Those are the symptoms that I felt three years ago when I had avoided a fatal heart attack by acting on the symptoms. More recently, just a few weeks ago, I was feeling some similar symptoms. What was different this time and which is another woman symptom, I felt a sharp coming and going pain in my jaw.”
You recently turned 75. How did it feel to hit this benchmark?
“It threw me for a loop. That’s a crazy big number. It scared me, and it shocked me. Right before COVID, I did a layout for Harper’s Bazaar that was unretouched. I was very flattered to be asked to do this and a little bit scared to do it unretouched in a bathing suit on the beach. I was 72 then. So then I woke up and we’re almost finished with COVID and suddenly I’m 75. It’s shocking.
I’ve always been a very grateful person, but now I’m not going to squander one moment. I’m not going to postpone joy. I’m going to look for the laugh and look for every way to enjoy this precious gift of life that I have.”
You look amazing! What are the skin-care secrets that have helped keep you looking young?
“Thank you. I probably do a lot of the same things that we all do. I will say that we all get a certain gene pool, and I was really lucky. Both my parents had really great skin. I just lost my mother in June—she was 104—I was lucky to be with her when she passed away, and she didn’t have a line in her face.
But I do take good care of my skin because I know I got lucky. Take it just one day at a time. If you didn’t have a ton of wrinkles yesterday, you’re not going to have a ton of wrinkles today. If you take care of it today, you’re still going to be okay tomorrow, and you could maybe string all those days together. I think what you eat is really important, it can be very helpful, not just to your overall health but to your skin. And hydrating is really important.
Plus, I, and I don’t make a secret of it, have a really good dermatologist. I go to her and get checked out, and there is some Botox involved, and that’s a good thing. My mother was a nurse, and I know that my mother believes a lot in prevention. So I thought, gee, looking ahead, maybe I could do something to prevent [lines] from happening.”
What healthy living tips would give women over the age of 60?
“Get moving. I do Pilates, but whatever exercise or form of sports or whatever you love to do that works for you that you can continue to do, do it. I think that’s really important for a lot of reasons. I believe very much in total wellness. I love Pilates because it’s body-sculpting, and I love the results, but a great byproduct of doing Pilates, I wish I had known it earlier, is that it de-stresses and it’s wonderful for freeing the mind, and that is a very important thing. Stress is a real thing, and stress takes its toll on bodies, so if you can also take care of your mind and your spirit that will continue to help your total health and give you some pretty great results. I think that’s a win-win situation.”
Are there any self-care rituals you’ve begun as you’ve gotten older that you didn’t do in the past?
“I learned from my personal trainer that it’s important to come at your muscles in different ways. So within the Pilates world, I vary it. Everything I do is Pilates informed, but I have added weights almost every day for upper body strength and toning. Now, in the last couple of years, when I’m working with weights for the upper body, I stand on a BOSU so that I’m also working on balance at the same time. I’ve heard that balance is something that affects people as they get older, and I want to be careful about that and do as much as I can for myself. Balance is a good thing to keep in mind.”
What should women do for preventative care?
“My first cardiac event three years ago was due to a calcium blockage. It turned out to be family history, DNA from my otherwise very handsome and wonderful dad, and there was really nothing I could do. It took all those years to build up. What I could do going forward and what I would say to people is ask questions. Be aware of their numbers. My numbers were good, but they didn’t indicate everything.
There are tests you can have. You can have a test for your carotid arteries and have a CAT scan if you request it to see where you stand, where your arteries are and how healthy your heart is. You could request that particularly if you know you have a family history. I never even considered my family history. I never had a health issue, so I don’t even think I ever told the doctor about my dad’s heart health. There’s nothing I could do about that part except to keep my heart itself healthy, and that’s where the good diet and exercise applies.”