Kelly Rowland: Losing my mother to heart disease was a wake-up call

(Originally published on Healthline)

After losing her mother to heart disease, Kelly Rowland changed her relationship with food. Now she’s on a mission to educate others about the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle.

From Destiny’s Child to her solo singing career to being a current judge on “The Voice: Australia,” Kelly Rowland has been a force of nature in the entertainment industry.

A life of traveling and being on stage since a teen made Rowland embrace fitness, but she says this doesn’t mean she was necessarily living healthily. She admits her biggest go-to vices were hamburgers and fast food.

That all changed five years ago when a family tragedy gave her an urgent wake-up call. Her mother Doris Rowland Garrison passed away after going into sudden cardiac arrest. She was only 66.

“I started this whole new lifestyle after I lost my mom to heart disease,” Rowland told Healthline during an interview in New York City. “I just wanted to change my life and change the way I ate, the choices I made with food and exercising and making sure that, since I have a son, I was making the right choices with him watching me and doing the same thing.”

Getting healthier with Happy Hearts

Rowland’s commitment to living a more heart-healthy life and imparting that wisdom to her young 4-year-old son informed her decision to be the face of Happy Hearts, an awareness campaign from Honey Nut Cheerios.

The goal of the initiative is simple — eat healthy, low-cholesterol-driving foods and embrace a more physically active lifestyle. Through the campaign, the cereal brand partnered with MyFitnessPal for the Whole Hearts Challenge, an incentive-driven program to get people to be more physically active.

A lifelong fan of the cereal — she and her husband keep a box on a low shelf that is an easy arm’s reach away for their son Titan Jewell Weatherspoon — Rowland said it was a natural partnership.

“We just want people to know what’s going on with their bodies, know what’s going on with their heart,” she stressed. “These are simple steps you can take.”

Rowland said since being part of the campaign, she’s been more aware of how impactful just simple activities can be for one’s overall health.

She’s begun making simple adjustments in her own life that she encourages others to try. For example, she said she recently took some friends out for roller skating as a way to combine physical activity with some social fun.

Yes, eating healthy foods and adding easily achievable, daily physical activities to your daily schedule seems like common sense, but for many people they’re easy things to overlook.

Rowland explained that she’s just like everyone else when it came to taking her health for granted and overlooking the importance of a healthy diet.

“It’s very easy to forget these things. Especially burgers. Look, I could have burgers every day, it’s fun. It’s my favorite food, but then I had to look and think, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing to yourself on the inside?'” she said.

Rowland was quick to say that she isn’t telling people not to indulge now and again. Just do it in moderation.

“I just want to make sure I’m being really smart with my health. I can enjoy, but I can’t say ‘Is today cheat day? And can tomorrow be cheat day, too?'” she added, with a laugh.

Heart disease: A serious concern

But Rowland knows heart disease is no laughing matter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports  that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death for women and men in the United States.

Looking closer, the latest statistics from the American Heart Association (AHA) reveal that, nationwide, someone dies from heart disease every 38 seconds, which total about 2,303 deaths each day. Strokes account for around 389 deaths each day.

When it comes to the cause of death for Rowland’s mother, cardiac arrests account for the deaths of 475,000 Americans each year, according to the AHA.

Dr. Dermot Phelan, cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, told Healthline that the circumstances surrounding sudden cardiac death differ depending on a person’s age. If it happens in young people under the age of 35, it’s usually due to a heritable disorder.

For adults older than 35, it’s usually the result of common causes like coronary disease or the buildup of cholesterol in the coronary arteries.

He said that this kind of death can be highly avoidable through the kinds of lifestyle changes Rowland is promoting.

Phelan, who isn’t affiliated with this campaign, echoed what Rowland said about incorporating activities as simple as cleaning the house or taking your dog out for a walk around the neighborhood. He stressed that the minimum suggested amount of physical activity to promote good heart health is about 30 minutes, five days a week — and more is even better.

Food is the other big component, he said.

“Unfortunately, the western diet is not a heart-healthy diet,” Phelan said. “People need to avoid eating processed foods as much as possible. Please switch over to unprocessed foods. You should be trying to minimize the amount of red meat you consume while focusing more on vegetables, healthy oils, fish, and white meat.”

He said what it comes down to is self-monitoring, which is easier said than done for many people.

Phelan added that everyone should be aware of their numbers — know what your blood pressure is, know what your cholesterol levels are, know your blood sugar levels. Additionally, he stressed that you not smoke, calling it an “absolute ‘no-no.'”

For those who might find it difficult to add these lifestyle changes to an everyday routine, Phelan said that you have to “form habits.” Make sure these adjustments become a seamless part of your daily life. You can’t make them optional changes.

Setting an example

Rowland said that following her mother’s death she made sure to see her own doctor. She wanted to know what the best recourse would be to stay healthy.

This interest in her own health spread to those around her. She said a good friend of hers has high cholesterol genetically. Whenever people in her life have questions, she tries to give them the best possible answers.

“If I know something, I tell everybody, absolutely, I give that information. I feel if I received it (information), then it means I’m supposed to give it,” she said.

Of course, the most important person she shares information with is her son. She said it’s fascinating seeing him dig into his bowl of Cheerios. Her earliest memories of eating Honey Nut Cheerios stem from when her mother would pour her a bowl.

Rowland said she now looks at Titan and she thinks, “My God, I’m looking at myself reflected through my own son’s eyes.”

That realization is about more than cereal. She said it’s important that she displays healthy behaviors Titan can emulate.

“I feel like I’m his first example, his father is his first example. If he sees us do it, then that’s the best thing we can do,” Rowland said.

Honey Nut Cheerios

Honey Nut Cheerios