Weather Forecast


Weather Alert: Closings and cancellations

Embracing heart health

Actress Janine Turner speaks about heart health at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center’s women’s health and wellness event at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

Actress Janine Turner could feel her heart flutter.

Heart disease had already hit her family hard. Her father, a West Point graduate, had congestive heart failure and died of it two years ago. Her brother had a heart attack at 42 and survived.

"My heart is always going into (premature ventricular contractions)," she said.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.

Turner, 53, a Nebraska native, grew up in Texas. She was on daytime television, including long-time standards of "General Hospital," and "Another World." Her breakout role came on a popular television series "Northern Exposure" where she played Alaskan air taxi pilot Maggie O'Connell opposite Rob Morrow. The CBS show started in 1990 and ran for six seasons.

Turner said the first thing she did after "Northern Exposure" was picked up for a large episode order was buy a pickup truck and a horse. In 1995, she returned home to Texas and bought a ranch in North Dallas.

Turner was in Brainerd recently as a guest speaker for the Women's Wellness Experience, hosted by the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center at Franklin Arts Center. The event was part of the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign.

Turner co-starred in "Cliffhanger" with Sylvester Stallone and was a series regular on "Strong Medicine." She directs and writes and produces. She wrote a book titled: "Holding Her Head High: 12 Single Mothers Who Championed Their Children and Changed History."

As a single mother, Turner said she was much more in tune with her health when she realized she had the sole responsibility for her daughter.

"I stopped all caffeine when I was 40 and became very aware of what was going on with my heart," Turner said.

She had the audience laughing when she put out the disclaimer she was not a doctor but had played one on TV. Turner said what she does is a little quirky but works for her.

"Stress, whether it's resentment or fatigue or sorrow, anger," Turner said. "I believe I could feel it. Of course it has a tremendous effect on our heart, on our heart rhythms. ... It is very responsive to stress. We all have stress so one of the first things I had to do was learn how to cope with stress."

Turner said she drank to deal with stress and didn't have coping skills. She described herself as a blackout drinker, being able to function but being unable to remember what she was doing. Alcoholism, she said, was another disease prevalent in her family.

"At the age of 23 I got sober," Turner said. She joined a 12-step program. "I learned how to cope and I learned how resentments could just turn my life to negativity, forget my heart, turn my entire life to negativity."

Turner said she now focuses not on what other people are doing but what she is doing as part of it. She called it "cleaning up her side of the street." Turner uses a journal and believes in clearing up resentment right away, admitting where she was wrong and having humility.

"Carrying all the resentment just eats away at our heart," Turner said. "I learned a lot about humility. ... Humility brings peace and peace of mind brings a healthier heart."

Turner advocates keeping a journal, hot baths, and chocolate in moderation.

"I think humor is absolutely vital," she said, and finding friends who are on the same path. She also embraces an attitude of gratitude and said writing things down helps deal with emotions.

"Dealing with the death of my dad was a real devastation for me," Turner said. "My faith is paramount to me. ... Reading the bible has just really given me great solace because I get out of my thinking. ... What I focus on is what I become."

Turner said she has to work on all the coping skills every day. She talked about discovering numerous food allergies and a high sensitivity to foods that negatively affected her heart rhythm. The effect created dizzy spells to the point where she couldn't walk a straight line.

"I was really scared," Turner said. "I had no idea what was happening to me."

She talked about so many foods she was allergic to—eggs, wheat, gluten, dairy, almonds, cranberry juice, soy, among others—someone from the audience yelled out and asked her what she could eat. The answer was vegetables, beef, potatoes, chicken, pork. She stays away from processed food. And drinks lots of water.

In terms of exercise, Turner walks for 30 minutes each day, which she said helps with her heart rhythm. She said psychologically the exercise has been really good. But she hated the treadmill. Instead she walks, even if it's just in her bedroom, for a half hour. Sometimes she walks in the parking lot at her daughter's school. The walking has an impact even on the days she feels tired and just walks slow.

"It's been remarkable," she said. "It's changed everything for me. ... The walking has really helped with my blood sugar level. It has definitely helped with my heart. I just feel better."

Turner and her daughter, Juliette, both donned red dresses for the event dubbed "Health is your best Accessory: Women's Wellness Experience."

Turner said she does whatever she can for her heart, to cope with emotions and to feel better throughout the day.

"I think for heart health there has to be a lot of letting go and letting God," she said.

At the end, Turner told those gathered in the largely full auditorium, "This is the zaniest heart health speech you have ever heard. I hope you all go home and do a walk and think of me."

Trip to Minnesota

Turner said her family expressed concerns about her trip to Minnesota to the cold. Her mother was incredulous she'd go to Minnesota in February.

"It is so much fun to be here in Minnesota," she said.

Before the trip here, Turner joked she met some young men in a singing group at her daughter's school. One was from Scotland. She asked about the weather in Scotland only to be quite surprised when the young man said it wasn't as cold as Minnesota.

"What are the odds he would have said Minnesota," Turner said. "I love it here. I think it is absolutely beautiful."

Carole Eliseuson, an artist who designs jewelry, also took part in the event and wanted to get a glimpse at the petite Turner.

"I love it," she said. "I think it's great. I think it's good for people to get out and have some fun."

This is the event's second year. It featured 71 booths, including short talks on wellness topics, free screenings and demonstrations.

Peggy Stebbins, who coordinated the event for CRMC, said it was an opportunity for ladies, who are often taking care of others and making health care decisions, to come out and see how to take better care of themselves. The event is in the planning stages for months. "This is our biggest event," Stebbins said.

The Women's Wellness Event was larger than last year, with about 800 people expected.

Elaine Schultz, Brainerd, who served as a licensed practical nurse in the community, attended this year for the first time because of Turner. As she waited for Turner to take the stage, she said she's found there were many parts of the experience she enjoyed.

"I think it's been wonderful, all the topics they've been sharing," Schultz said. "I tell you what—I enjoyed it."

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at