Addressing 300, actress stresses nutrition, exercise

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 27, 2004

Jane Powell gestures while speaking at River Region Health System’s Senior Day of Health Wednesday.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[5/27/04]The spotlight can be lonely. And loneliness can hurt a person’s health just as much as arthritis. Jane Powell knows.

Best known for her starring roles in MGM musicals, Powell spoke to an audience of 300 in Vicksburg Wednesday as part of River Region Health System’s Senior Day of Health.

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The Wednesday event was held in conjunction with National Senior Health and Fitness Day.

“It’s nice to be here with my peers,” the 75-year-old actress said.

Powell stressed nutrition and exercise, saying staying active and eating in moderation are the keys to healthy living.

“Just because we’re getting older doesn’t mean we should sit on the sidelines,” Powell said. “If you don’t exercise, you atrophy.”

Powell said her arthritis does not prevent her from walking, lifting weights or practicing yoga. Powell still weighs 100 pounds, matching her movie-making days.

Powell conceded physical exercise can be boring, the opposite of mental exercise, which she said is crucial.

“When you live in isolation, you notice aches and pains a lot more,” Powell said. She related a story about her parents who lived in a retirement home. Meals were the only time the residents would come together. “Then they would go back to their rooms and complain of being lonely,” Powell said.

“It’s amazing how often we create the things we least want,” Powell said.

Playing the lead in touring shows like “My Fair Lady” and “South Pacific” was difficult for Powell, who described herself as a “homebody.”

“I was homesick and lonely most of the time,” Powell said. She said she ordered groceries by telephone for her children when they were not traveling with her, just to feel like a part of their lives.

She eventually sought therapy to deal with the effects of chronic loneliness. Getting a pet also helped, Powell said.

“A friend got me a dog. It was the best gift. I was always needed,” Powell said.

By making healthy choices and keeping a positive attitude, aging can be an enjoyable process , Powell said.

“If I had known getting older would be this good, I would’ve done it sooner,” she joked.

In addition to Powell, seven doctors from River Region spoke in morning sessions about topics ranging from allergies to Alzheimer’s. Screening tests for eye, ear and other health disorders were also available. Thirteen vendors operated health-care information booths.

Vicksburg native Bea Warnock took advantage of the screening tests and the sessions. “Getting to see the doctors up close is one of the things I enjoy,” Warnock said.

She is also a longtime fan of Powell’s. “I loved everything she’s ever been in,” Warnock said. “We’re about the same age. I more or less grew up with her.”

River Region CEO Philip Clendinin promised the event, which the hospital last sponsored in 2002 with Art Linkletter as the celebrity guest, would improve each year.

“I’m looking for this to grow year after year,” Clendinin said.