Heart to Heart with Stefanie Powers
by Bonnie Siegler
Not in a million years could you say that Stefanie Powers has let herself go. Just spend a little time talking with her, and it's evident what more than 50 years of regular exercise and good eating habits have done for her appearance, her energy and spirit, her staying power and her super-for-any-age shape. Sure, there are laugh lines around her twinkling eyes and tiny creases that appear with the famous smile. But her legs are still long and slender, her waist is girlishly slim, and that mane of red hair looks as lustrous as it did during her reign as Jennifer Hart on TV's
At 5'7", the former girl from U.N.C.L.E. admits, "There's a phenomenon that occurs when you put on more mass as you get older, so the question of trying to maintain a physical condition for women is really quite challenging because no woman knows how she's going to age until it starts to happen. We have to keep in touch with the changes and with our bodies as much as possible. We can look at our parents and see how we might play out genetically."
As for her own genetic map, Powers explains that she is the caregiver to her 91-year-old mother who suffers severe osteoporosis and who lives with her. "I'm witnessing my mother's osteoporosis on a daily basis. We have to learn about our bodies to be able to maintain healthy equipment."
Powers takes anti-aging measures, such as drinking lots of water, using sunscreen protection and getting regular exercise. And she is adamant about the benefits of hormone replacement therapy for her overall health and fitness and the role it plays in thwarting osteoporosis.
"I strongly believe in HRT (hormone replacement therapy) as long as you're being tested for all seven elements -- not just the two [elements] that most doctors test," which are estrogen and progesterone levels, she says.
"There are other elements, such as thyroid, growth hormones, bi-estrogen, DHEA and pregnenolene . . . I have my blood tested for these levels every 3 months because we change, as do our levels, in spite of the fact that we're taking a consistent dose. I wish I had these hormone tests in my 20s so that I would know what's normal for me, not what's normal for a test group. Doctors talk about norms that might not be just for you. Do you want to bring your levels up to a premenstrual level, up to a 45-year-old woman's level or up to a 20-something's level? I think the greatest injustice is that we're not told that we should test all our levels at an early age so we have that individual norm level that doctors can refer to as we age. If you're going to take hormones, you have to maintain a watchful eye on what they're doing to your body and how you are reacting. You have to be diligent about your own health because nobody cares more about you than you."
As thorough as she is about HRT, Powers also uses a full spectrum of supplements. "I take a calcium supplement, salmon oils, B-complex vitamins, Cs, Es, antioxidant supplements and a multi," she says.
If Powers seems to have raised the age of sexy, it's been accomplished through years of hard work educating herself on health, fitness and environmental factors.
"I see what my mother is going through. She didn't take HRT. She didn't do weight-bearing exercises, and her osteoporosis is quite bad. So the questions you ask your doctor have to be knowledgeable questions for which you do the research. I read magazines, medical journals and health care books constantly. If I don't learn something new every day, then I honestly believe it's been a day wasted. I've been thinking of health and nutrition almost my whole life," she says.
Calling herself "a clean and healthy liver," Powers says she is one of those lucky people who doesn't gain weight readily and has wisely taken most of the fat out of her diet as a cancer preventative. She also shops as organically as possible, buying essentials such as soymilk, whole grains (cereal, roughage, breads), nuts, dried fruits, and fresh fruits and vegetables whenever she can.
"Eating this way helps ensure a healthy heart," she says.
Breaking a sweat
Another of her sound health insurance measures is working up a good sweat at least three times a week. To this end, Powers does yoga once a week, three hours of aerobic/weight training/anaerobic exercise, a Pilates session and, during the season, she plays polo.
"On a perfect day, a 90-minute yoga class makes my body feel good," says the former dancer. "I do a very intense yoga workout in a hot room, which allows you to perspire. That [gets] rid of all those toxins," she says.
To complement that perfect day, Powers will eat just one solid meal, supplementing it with protein drinks and fresh juices.
"I've been mostly vegetarian forever, though I do eat some deep-sea fish. The truth is, I eat very sparingly. Overall, it makes me feel so much better emotionally and physically," she says.
Fueling Powers' 1,000-watt smile -- besides her healthful habits -- is her passion for gardening, whether she's doing it at her Southern California home or at the William Holden Wildlife Foundation in Kenya, for which she serves as president.
"I've grown my own vegetables since the '70s. I had my own chickens, and I continue to do that when I'm in Africa. So I have my own sources of protein -- chickens make eggs, and egg whites are full of protein. Organic gardening has been in my life for a long, long time. I even make my own compost."
Powers first visited Kenya in 1973 with the late actor William Holden. She now spends quite a bit of time at the foundation he started there, which includes an education center and animal preserve in the shadow of majestic Mount Kenya. Perhaps her bond with animals and their preservation has been Powers' most important longevity secret.
"I think having animals around contributes to good health. The very touch of animals and the feeling of this extraordinary bonding is somehow enormously therapeutic. It lowers blood pressure and stress," she says, "and it's comforting. I doubt very much if human beings could ever have evolved without the aid of animals."
Known for her grace, beauty, sophistication and knowledge, Powers says that while she got her mother's "general good genes" and expects to live a very long time, she also realizes she's trying to cram many lifetimes into her one.
"I've learned what works best for me, but there are dozens of ways to get in shape, to look and feel better. The most important step is to make a commitment to yourself."
And for over 5 decades, she's been doing just that -- beautifully.