Wilmer Valderrama shares his secret to staying physically and mentally sharp: 'Be intentional'

Elena Sheppard
·7 min read
Wilmer Valderrama is raising awareness about kidney health. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Wilmer Valderrama is raising awareness about kidney health. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Wilmer Valderrama is a busy man. He's an actor and producer currently starring as Nick Torres on NCIS, not to mention an activist and dad to a newborn baby girl. But even with all of those many plates to spin, he is also dedicated to getting the word out to as many people as possible about the importance of kidney health.

With March 11 being World Kidney Day, Valderrama is taking part in an awareness campaign encouraging people to take preventative measures, including a 60-second quiz at MinuteForYourKidneys.org that will assess one's risk and offer a "road map" for staying healthy. The humbling statistics show that one in three Americans is at risk for developing kidney disease, and that early detection and preventative care is key. Valderrama says this cause is personal, noting family members who are in high-risk categories for kidney disease due to diabetes and high blood pressure. A big motivating factor for him is getting information about preventative care into communities of color.

We created a very easy way to dive into prevention. It literally takes 60 seconds and you can find out if you're high risk. Then we give you information, which is the road map to where you can go in order to dig a little deeper into that possible diagnosis.

"Prevention is really a path to taking care of yourself," Valderrama tells Yahoo Life. "And you definitely don't want to have kidney disease and then get COVID.

"My parents were of that generation where you only go to the doctor when something hurts," Valderrama adds. "That's not the philosophy you should be living by."

In this edition of The Unwind, Valderrama talks about his commitment to both physical and mental wellness. For him, it basically boils down to one word: intentionality.

You are partnered with the National Kidney Foundation and are helping to raise public awareness about kidney disease. Why is raising awareness about this issue a priority for you?

Some of the most vulnerable communities are segregated from really vital information. For me that comes full circle to a lot of what my activist work has been, which is about awareness and prevention — a lot of that has to do with the African-American community and the Latino community and just people of color in general. So many things can really go wrong when you don't focus on prevention.

When I partnered with the National Kidney Foundation it was very sobering to know that kidney disease has no symptoms. You don't know you have it until it's too late to be treated, or maybe at a point when it's too critical to treat. And then you realize 37 million Americans have kidney disease and 90 percent of them don't know they have it, that's like one in three Americans, 33 percent. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity... these are all kidney disease risk factors that run in my family.

It was important to me to to do this because I have friends with kidney disease and I have family members who are in the high-risk category and none of them knew kidney disease has no symptoms, and none of them knew how common it could really be and how damaging [it is] to their body.

This is also a love letter to anyone who only goes to the doctor when it hurts. A lot of us in our communities have been taught to only go to the doctor when it hurts or to do a lot of home remedies. If you're sneezing, here's tea and lemon and honey, and you don't really dive into it any deeper. But COVID has really brought to the surface so many different scenarios that can go wrong if you have certain preexisting conditions. When you think about how COVID is affecting some of the people in the high-risk categories, it is a very, very sobering moment for America and for the world.

How else have you been prioritizing your your physical and mental wellness in this incredibly difficult time?

I made a point early in my life to do more good than bad to my body. I've also slowed down a lot of stuff in my life. There are major priorities changing in my life and in my career and I wanted to have more energy, and more time for a lot of different things, [like] doing my own stunts and doing mixed martial arts and really focusing on my fitness. It paved a road for healthier, stronger living.

That's another thing I want to promote, mind and mental strengthening. It's even more crucial and critical now that we all work on our mental health. This isolation can really take a toll on you and on your body. So ask yourself, what are you going to do with this newfound time? Are you going to indulge in the vices? Or are you going to say, "Hey, now that I finally have a little bit more time in the morning, or I have a little bit more time at home, maybe I really just embrace a number of things that will make my body and my mind a little happier."

My nephew who's 20 years old who thought, "Hey, I can sleep until 11, because I'm not in school anymore," I'm making him wake up at 4:30 in the morning to work out with me before I go to work. If you really want success, if you really want to invest in yourself — I'll be in the gym at 4:30 in the morning.

Do have any kind of mantra that motivates you?

If you woke up this morning, you're already winning. So how much more winning can you do today?

To me, the biggest thing is to find a way that you can understand that there's so much to be grateful for and that the half full is a lot easier to live than the half empty. So that's the mantra: If I woke up this morning, what else can I do in my day? Yes, live in the moment; yes, don't look at the past, but also appreciate that you are living a moment and what kind of moment do you want to have?

And then be really intentional, I think that's the biggest word I can use in this conversation. You have to be intentional. If your intention is to live happy, then you will. But if it's not, then you are going to open the door to a parade of things that are going to make you second guess and walk avenues that were probably not paved for you. It's perception vs. intention. I think that intention is is the only thing one needs to to really move in a direction that can really lead to any type of success, whether it's personal, whether it's professional, whether it's mental. There's a lot that you can gain by just moving through your life intentionally.

You're a new dad, any parting advice for men out there who have babies on the way?

I think it's too early for me to be giving any advice [laughs]. The jury's still out on me. But based on what I just said to you, honestly, just be intentional. Be intentional about being great at something, whether that is fatherhood or your career or to yourself.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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