Angela Lansbury Has a Message for Older Women: Fitness, She Says

updated 11/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

With four Tony awards, three Oscar and five Emmy nominations, Angela Lansbury, 63, can lay fair claim to being among the most versatile actresses ever. For the past four seasons, she has starred as Jessica Fletcher, the mystery novelist and sleuth, in the highly rated CBS series Murder, She Wrote. But Murder's fifth season, which began this month, will be Lansbury's last. "I'm so terribly interested in so many things, and one of my problems with the series is that I don't have enough time to do some things I enjoy, "she says. "So I'm just going to leave and take my chances."

There is no chance, however, that the English-born Lansbury will ever allow herself to vegetate. Proof of that comes in a just-released video, Angela Lansbury's Positive Moves: A Personal Plan for Fitness and Well-Being at Any Age. In the 50-minute tape, Lansbury takes viewers into the Brentwood, Calif., home she shares with her husband and manager, Peter Shaw, to demonstrate her own fitness program of exercise and selective eating and to sound off about femininity and sexuality for the postmenopausal woman. Says Lansbury: "There comes a time in life when if you can say certain things that can be helpful to other people, you darn well ought to share them." She spoke with correspondent Suzanne Adelson.

What is your approach to exercise?

Strenuous exercise is something I avoid at all costs. The moves and stretches that I demonstrate on the tape are not excruciatingly difficult. But I wanted to stress that it's okay to care about your body and look after it, to care about how you look to yourself in the mirror and to your husband. It's okay at any age, but as you grow older, caring about fitness can be a battle.

What are your favorite exercises?

I like to do gentle morning stretches to loosen up and relax muscle tensions. Some of the exercises, such as "on-land swimming," where I do breaststroke and backstroke motions while standing, are my own inventions. So are the rhythmic dance movements for balance and coordination, because dance has always been a very important part of my life. It takes about 30 minutes to do all the movements, and you can skip a day now and then.

Is your video specifically aimed at women over 60?

Yes, but not exclusively. I'm also talking to women over 20, because I think the same rules apply to every woman—how to keep active, how to keep the body moving, how to eat sensibly—no matter what her age. Even women in their 20s are concerned about the aging process.

What do women fear most about aging?

That they will lose their sexual attractiveness to men. This is a tremendous problem because, as we all know, a man of 65 can still be vitally attractive; he can attract young women of 20 and 30. This is doubly tough on women who have maturity and experience and a beauty of their own but who nevertheless are not 20 years old.

What happens to a woman's sexual desire after menopause?

There's no reason it should change much. And assuming she's still interested, then it follows she would care about how she looks. If a woman doesn't think she's attractive, and doesn't pay attention to her face, her hair, her body, her dress and her general deportment, then she's not going to get a second look from anyone, is she? Maybe not even from her husband.

Might you care more about how you look than most women your age because of your career?

My career aside, I consider myself a very average woman, really. I have a wonderful marriage, three children, three grandchildren. As I said in my video, I was never considered a beauty. But theatrically I can project an illusion of great glamour. I think a woman who isn't an actresss can also project herself as a woman of dignity and liveliness, a woman who feels good and knows she looks good. A woman should maintain a certain sense of mystery about herself, and I think that can continue to any age.

Are you a dieter?

I've tried many diets, including a lot of fad diets in earlier years when I didn't know any better. The first time I put on weight was when I did Mame on Broadway. It was eating after the show that did it. Late eating is the worst habit you can get into, and I've absolutely broken that habit. But I gained weight again, about 15 lbs., the first season of Murder, She Wrote, when I allowed myself to become sedentary.

Do you still diet?

No, and I don't count calories. No one can stay on a diet. The only way to lose weight is to do it slowly. I lost those 15 lbs. over a period of three or four months by exercising and changing my eating habits.

What are your eating patterns?

I have fruit and cereal for breakfast, maybe an apple mid-morning, and for lunch an enormous salad. For dinner I have poultry and fish, two or three vegetables and a tofu-based ice cream for dessert if I feel like it. I eat no eggs, no yellow cheese, no sugar and a reduced-fat margarine. I've also cut out all red meat.

Are you satisfied with your weight now?

I'm 5'8½" and I weigh 147 lbs. at the moment. It's a good weight for me. I don't think I'll ever be skinny because my bones are too big.

Are you in favor of plastic surgery?

Absolutely! It's one of the most helpful things we can do to fight aging. If you need it, have it. I had my neck nipped and tucked, and it made a tremendous difference. I haven't had anything done to my face, though, because I fear changing my expression.

What do you think makes a woman more appealing in her later years?

Femininity, grace, warmth and just a sense of her own person. That's very important. Some of the most winning women I've known, however, haven't necessarily been brimming over with obvious femininity; they were very tailored women who were staunch and strong and marvelous.

How much do men contribute to a woman's sense of self as she ages?

Men are one of our hardest obstacles to overcome, quite truthfully. Men are children when it comes to women. I get letters from women whose husbands are off with younger women, that sort of thing. But as long as these wives hang in there, just keep looking lovely and start taking better care of themselves, believe me, those guys will come home. They always do.

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