“Never take no for an answer. Just keep pushing and making a difference," Shriver tells PEOPLE

By Darlene Aderoju and Elise Burger
April 12, 2019 04:40 PM
Advertisement

Maria Shriver is many things – an activist, journalist and outspoken leader for women’s health issues, among them. But her most cherished role? That of devoted mom.

And if there’s one empowering message she hopes to pass onto her four children with ex-husband, Arnold SchwarzeneggerChristopher, 21, Patrick, 25, Christina, 27 and Katherine Schwarzenegger, 29 — it might be this: “Never take no for an answer,” Shriver told PEOPLE. “Just keep pushing and making a difference.”

She added, “And to make a difference, you need your health.”

The importance of both physical and mental health was a key focus of #WOW The Wonder of Women Summit, held at the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center at UCLA on Thursday. The annual conference, created to inspire the next generation of female leaders through discussion and the enhancement of mental and physical health, showcased trailblazers in medicine, sports and popular culture.

Shriver, for one, used the #WOW platform to announce The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Research Initiative with UCLA.

(left to right) Patrick and Christina Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Katherine and Chris Schwarzenegger

“I got involved [with WOW] by collaborating to establish this initiative encouraging people to look at sex differences when it comes to Alzheimer’s research,” Shriver said told PEOPLE. “And really in every area of research, I’m trying to push the agenda for women’s health.”

Shortly after her father, Sargent Shriver was diagnosed with the disease in 2003, she developed a passion for the study of Alzheimer’s and launched the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. The non-profit organization is dedicated to raising awareness about the increased risk in women to develop the illness.

The organization is also dedicated to educating the public about lifestyle changes that can help protect brain health.

“There’s a lot of research,” the activist said. “I think everybody’s looking for the magic pill.”

RELATED VIDEO: Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger Are Engaged: ‘Sweet Katherine, So Happy You Said Yes!’

“We’re not there yet, but there’s a lot of people: philanthropists, doctors [and] researchers now involved in this, because it’s the big disease that no one can figure out.”

Her organization has donated more than $800,000 to scientists and research institutions that are studying women-based Alzheimer’s, in efforts to find a cure.

She was among other powerful women at the summit, including dancer Julianne Hough who opened up about depression and anxiety, and singer Sara Bareilles.

Lisa Kudrow, best known for her role as Phoebe in the series Friends, was the event’s emcee and shared a photo with Shriver, calling her a “wonderful woman” in the caption.

“I’m excited that so many really smart people are looking at this and also looking into the difference between a woman’s brain and a man’s brain,” Shriver said.

“There’s definitely a difference [between men and women’s] bodies as well, with heart health and all these other ties,” she said.

“… We haven’t given women their due when it comes to research in any area.”

As far as keeping her own health in-tact, the author has a regimen.

“I have a meditation practice, I exercise, I try to surround myself with people who bring out the best in me,” she said. “I find meaning in my work….“There’s a lot of tools and practices that I have that helped me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.”

Shriver also encourages others to always ask questions of their doctors when they feel they may need help.

“Just take a deep breath and ask— there’s no stupid question,” the mother of four said. “And, you know, educate yourself, and go in armed with questions, and if someone says they don’t know, then find someone else.”