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Maria Shriver: ‘Strive to Be Interesting’

Journalist-author reveals how she’s keeping busy, keeping fit and keeping up with her grandkids

spinner image Maria Shriver against green ombre background
AARP (Denise Truscello/Getty Images)

Maria Shriver, 68, is on a mission. As founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and a strategic adviser for the newly launched Cleveland Clinic Women’s Comprehensive Health and Research Center, she is a passionate advocate for expanded research that specifically focuses on women’s health, and hopes her efforts make a marked change for future generations. “My hope is that when my daughters and other people’s daughters are my age, that their experience at the doctor’s office is far more fact based than mine was,” Shriver says. AARP spoke to the journalist, author, former First Lady of California and mother of four children with ex-husband Arnold Schwarzenegger about her pursuit to change the conversation around women’s health care. She also shares her views on aging in the public spotlight, what she loves about being a grandmother and how she strives to be a supportive mother-in-law to her daughter Katherine’s husband, actor Chris Pratt.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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What changes are you trying to make in terms of women’s health care?

We need to have a broad, comprehensive conversation about what does women’s health actually mean. I’m always trying to have the conversation that it’s bigger than reproductive health. It’s bigger than breast cancer. It includes those things, but it’s far broader, and it’s far more comprehensive than the media writes it to be. I’m trying to broaden the conversation. I’m trying to make it more inclusive. I’m trying to talk about the inequities that are in it and how to write that ... into [clinical] trials — understanding that chronic diseases happen in different communities in different ways. People have different experiences with menopause or autoimmune disease or endometriosis or birth control, and [we need to make] room for that conversation.

What do you think women need to understand about midlife health issues?

Most women in midlife, millions of them, already have at least one chronic disease. One of the things I wish I had done is paid more attention in midlife, because whether it’s an autoimmune disease or whether it’s osteoporosis, all of these things begin in midlife or they get worse in midlife. So the best way to stay out of the doctor’s office is to prioritize your health at every decade of your life. Women in their 40s, 50s, their 60s are talking about different health issues than women in their 20s and 30s.

With increased research, ultimately, what would you like to see happen?

I’d like for women to be able to know more about their health journeys. I would like them to be able to get more facts when they go into the doctor’s office and be given facts and research to back it up, so that they’re not sitting there going: Should I get off the hormone? Should I go on the hormone? Should I take this drug? Should I not take that drug? Has it been tested on women? Has it not? What am I doing? How long should I do it? That they would have more information, that they would know the story of their health care better than they do now, because now there is no story for them to lean on.

Did your mother [Eunice Kennedy Shriver] talk to you about your health when you were growing up?

She always said, “Health is your greatest asset.” And she always said to me, “Your brain is your greatest asset.” Every time someone would come up and go, “Oh, you’re a pretty girl,” she [would say], “Your looks are going to go. Focus on your brain.” She always struggled with her health throughout life, so she was always stressing the importance of honoring your health and protecting your health and trying to understand your health. And if you had your health, you had everything. And she was right.

Has it been challenging for you to handle aging as a public figure?

It is what it is. You do the best you can with what you have, and you try to pull it together as best you can.... Everybody has to look in their own mirror.... Strive to be interesting. If you are interesting and interested at any age, that can make you the most interesting person in the room. I’ve always, through God’s grace, been interested in other people and their stories. And it’s why journalism was such a good fit for me [Shriver is a special anchor at NBC News and founder and CEO of Shriver Media] .... I’ll never be the best-dressed person in the room, or the youngest person, or the prettiest, or the this or that, but I’ll probably be one of the most interested people in the room.

spinner image Katherine Schwarzenegger, Christina Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Patrick Schwarzenegger and Christopher Schwarzenegger in front of background that says Capital One, The Espys
Shriver, seen here in 2017 with children Katherine, Christina, Patrick and Christopher Schwarzenegger, is a passionate advocate for specialized women's healthcare.
Paul Bruinooge/Getty Images

What do you personally do to stay mentally and physically sharp?

I work. I laugh. I have a purpose. I have friends. I prioritize my sleep. I try to prioritize exercise. I’m excited about my work.... I’m inspired by my work. I’m energized by the people I get to meet. Having purpose keeps you young. I never think that I’m old. I don’t think about it at all. I just think about: What are the goals that I’m trying to achieve? What is my purpose? What is my mission? What is my relationship with my God, my children, my friends?

How do you de-stress when you need a break?

I walk a lot. I go to dinner with friends. I try to laugh as much as possible. Balance is always important, having rituals. You should honor yourself and take care of yourself. But I’m curious. I don’t find work to be a drag. I find work to be fun. I find going to the park with my granddaughter [3-year-old Lyla Maria, whose parents are Katherine Schwarzenegger and Chris Pratt] fun.

What else is fun to do with your granddaughter?

Everything I do with her is fun. I walk with her, I go to the park with her, I go out to lunch with her. I don’t know what isn’t fun. You’re discovering entire new human beings. [Schwarzenegger and Pratt also have a 20-month-old daughter, Eloise Christina.] You’re learning about them, who they are. They’re unveiling themselves to you in real time, and you have limited time to make an impact in their life, so I try to do everything and anything I can with them. I try to be a support to my daughter, who’s like all young mothers, balancing a lot.

What does it take to be a good mother-in-law?

Respect and communication. It’s the same whether you’re a mother-in-law or whether you’re a friend: healthy respect, honoring people’s boundaries, being a communicative person, trying to be an understanding person. I really value my son-in-law. He’s made my daughter really happy, and he’s a good father, a good husband and a good human being.

What would you tell your younger self?

I don’t spend a lot of time on that [but], “Good for you. Here you are, Maria, you’re still cooking.” I wouldn’t go back and change it up. So I think it’s all good.

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