Actress Cheryl Ladd opens up about her mother’s rheumatoid arthritis and the life lessons she’s learned along the way.
Cheryl Ladd made television history when she joined the iconic ’70s television show Charlie’s Angels. As Kris Munroe, a beautiful blond crime fighter, Cheryl showed no mercy when it came to apprehending the bad guys. That role led to portraying other strong women on television shows like Las Vegas, NCIS and Chuck, as well as in movies and on Broadway. And this year, Cheryl stars as another tough (but gentle) character, Mrs. Claus, in the Disney holiday movie, Santa Pups.
In real life, the 61-year-old actress and mother of two has learned about strength by watching her 78-year-old mother, Dolores, fight rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for the past 15 years. True to her nature, Dolores never let RA get the upper hand. She took control early by seeing her doctor soon after the first symptoms, including joint pain and swelling, began. By working with her rheumatologist, Dolores has been able to manage her condition with medication, daily exercise and her trademark upbeat attitude.
“My mom has always been a glass-half-full kind of person,” Cheryl says. “She’s my greatest role model and always taught her children not to sweat the small stuff.” Here, Cheryl shares a few more life lessons from mom.
Stay on top of symptoms
Because RA may have a genetic component, Cheryl pays extra attention to keeping herself healthy. In addition to maintaining her weight and exercising, she has periodic checkups to make sure she isn’t developing signs of a joint problem. “I experience some occasional stiffness as the result of being a gymnast and an athlete when I was younger,” Cheryl says. “My doctor explained that RA is different and is characterized by joint pain, swelling and heat, along with joint stiffness in the morning.”
Why it’s a good idea: A study in Arthritis & Rheumatism found that RA patients who were treated by a rheumatologist within three months of their first symptoms showed less joint damage on X-rays.
Pick an exercise you love
Cheryl takes a cue from her mom, who takes 10 to 15 minute walks every day. “On busy days, I like going on a walk with my 4-year-old Labradoodle, Crockett, and a girlfriend,” Cheryl says. “It’s not only a great way to exercise, it’s also a good chance to catch up with a friend.”
Why it’s a good idea: Guess what’s keeping folks with RA from burning about the same amount of weekly calories as those without RA? According to Cornell University researchers, it’s avoiding short bouts of everyday activities like walking—not long, vigorous workouts.
Live life where it counts
In the present moment. "My mom has always tried to concentrate on the positives in her life rather than spend time and energy dwelling on the negatives," Cheryl says. "She enjoys spending time with her children and grandchildren, and loves playing Scrabble and watching old movies."
Likewise, Cheryl, who’s been married for 30 years to music producer Bryan Russell, finds joy in her acting career and playing soccer with her two grandsons, ages 5 and 3. And her love of golf led to writing a book (Token Chick: A Woman’s Guide to Golfing with the Boys) and cohosting celebrity golf tournaments to benefit Childhelp, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse.
Why it’s a good idea: A study in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that people with RA who received training in mindfulness meditation—including accepting their feelings without dwelling on them—experienced less depression and had better coping skills than those who received no training. And taking the focus off yourself by volunteering for a favorite cause can spur your body to release the feel-good hormone oxytocin—what researchers call the "helper's high."