Maya Angelou Center for Women’s Health and Wellness

Healthy Wisdom from Maya Angelou

May 16, 2012 at 2:40 pm , by

“It’s in the reach of my arms, the span of my hips, the stride of my step, the curl of my lips…” If you recognize those lines, you know Dr. Maya Angelou literally wrote the book on being a phenomenal woman. Now, at 84, the legendary poet and author is asking women to take control of their health.

I had the honor of speaking with Dr. Angelou on the phone this week. There’s something about her booming voice and metered way of speaking that commands attention. From the moment she said hello, I felt like I was talking to my all-knowing grandmother, and I had better listen.

She told me she learned early on that putting yourself first is the best thing you can do for those around you. “It seems on the face of it that it’s selfish, but it’s the opposite,” she says. And she’s right: How can you take care of children and aging parents if you don’t take care of yourself first? In honor of National Women’s Health Week, Dr. Angelou is asking us all to take a good look at ourselves: What can we do better?

“Look in the mirror. You’ll know what to do,” she says, without any doubt.

Almost two-thirds of American women are overweight or obese, and nearly 20 percent still smoke cigarettes. Both are major risk factors for heart disease, the number one killer of women in the United States. For African-American women, the stats are even scarier: four out of five are overweight or obese and they have the highest rate of death from heart disease, according to the CDC.

But it’s important not to focus just on getting down to a certain size, she says. Also listen to your body: “Sometimes women feel like they’re in competition with other women. They’ll never look like the model in the magazine, so they give up. The truth is you’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with bad health,” she says. “I encourage women to be present. Our bodies tell us when we’re well, and when we’re not well. Don’t be in denial.”

In honor of the opening of the Maya Angelou Center for Women’s Health and Wellness in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Dr. Angelou wants to know: What inspires you to be healthy? Share your story on the Maya Angelou Center for Women’s Health and Wellness Facebook page. A passage from the winning healthy inspirations submission will be featured inside the center, and runners-up will receive an autographed copy of Phenomenal Woman.