For Mindy Kaling it took a major mindset shift to finally find joy in her workouts. Now at 42 she’s overhauled the way she thinks about exercise.
“I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been,” she tells SELF. “I love it.”
As an actor, writer, director, producer, comedian, and mom, Kaling knows all too well about the difficulty of setting aside time for herself. But carving out time for movement—and keeping it fun and interesting—makes her better at everything else she does, she says.
“I am funnier, more focused, and centered when I incorporate movement into my life,” says Kaling, who recently partnered with Propel Fitness Water’s #ShowYourJOWO campaign to help more people discover joyful movement.
Her relationship with exercise hasn’t always been this positive. In her 20s, Kaling saw working out as a punishment. “[I was] waking up before dawn, before I had to get to set at The Office, going to my gym, sitting on a treadmill for 45 minutes, trying to run as fast as I could, hating it,” she says. “Hating it was very important.”
Over the last few years, however, Kaling has pivoted. As she began incorporating less formal forms of movement, like walks or hikes with friends, and exploring L.A. fitness classes, exercise became something different. It became interesting, fun, and downright joyful. Now it’s something she legitimately looks forward to daily.
Wondering what it takes to go from dreading your workouts to legitimately loving them? Here’s what works for Kaling.
Reframing workout “success”
During The Office years, Kaling believed exercise had to follow very strict parameters for it to count as working out.
“In my 20s, I thought working out was only effective if it was very punishing, you hated it, and it was kind of solitary. And you had to look a certain way after doing it,” Kaling explains. Now, she says, “It doesn’t have to be this thing where I was sedentary the whole day and then I had an hour of a burst of activity.”
Today she sees value in shorter workouts that don’t necessarily leave her panting and exhausted—and it’s been a total game changer. She considers any workout that gives her a chance to move her body a win, regardless of the duration or the sweat factor. (Bonus if it takes place out in the sunshine or with a friend.)
Having broadened her idea of what a successful session looks like, Kaling realizes every little bit makes a difference in improving her state of mind—and it all adds up. For example, following her interview with SELF, her movement break later that day was slated to be a 15-minute walk.
In fact, Kaling says she often notices the cumulative effect of these “little ‘secret’ workouts,” as she calls them, on her fitness tracker at the end of the day. By taking a walk while getting some fresh air or making a phone call, she often ends up logging three to four miles a day.
Changing it up
“I refuse to let it get monotonous,” she says.
Kaling is particularly drawn to trying out new kinds of fitness classes. “I do any trendy workout,” she says. That includes vibration plate classes—where you do moves on a platform or plate that shakes—and more recently, attending her first Pilates reformer class with a friend.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” she recalls. “It was harder than any weightlifting class.”
But she says she’ll definitely try it again—if only because L.A. parking is a major factor in her workout decision-making matrix. She jokes, “The biggest thing about all these classes is, ‘Was parking easy?’ And I was like, ‘It was easy. I have to go back.’”
And when she doesn’t have the time or the bandwidth to deal with parking, she’s a big fan of streaming classes. “I also love all the online classes you can take in your home, on your phone,” she says.
Not only is streaming convenient, but it also takes some of the pressure off. After all it can be intimidating to be a newbie when the other people around you are way more familiar with a form of fitness. (It’s likely even more overwhelming as a recognizable celebrity.)
“I really like experimenting at home with new stuff where I can’t feel foolish in front of people,” Kaling says. That experience then gives her the confidence to continue it in a fitness class.
Keeping it social
Kaling wishes she’d discovered the joy of social workouts earlier in her fitness journey. Had she known that in her 20s, she says, “I probably would have had more friends and been less stressed.”
While the Beyoncé fan says there’s certainly a time and a place for a long solo run with Lemonade or the Homecoming soundtrack in her earbuds, there’s nothing like putting away the music and sharing a workout with another person.
“I have found so much joy in taking my dad and going for a three-mile walk and talking about his life and then being like, ‘Oh, I just did this great workout,’” she says.
In addition to walks and strength training sessions with her dad, Kaling enjoys walking or hiking with friends—both IRL and virtually. She FaceTimes regularly with her childhood friend, Julia, who lives in Boston, for separate-but-together workouts while Kaling’s either walking on the treadmill or on the beach in Malibu.
“We just make this commitment to talk to each other for 45 minutes, catch up, and work out,” Kaling says.
Kaling wishes she knew at 25 that you could strengthen your friendships and get in your movement by working out with a friend. But even if she had the chance to give her younger self fitness advice, she doubts that younger self would have listened.
“I would have been like, ‘I don't need you, old Mindy, you bag of bones. Don’t tell me anything,’” she says. At this point, though, Kaling is thrilled to have discovered that exercise doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. “I truly am finding this joy in movement and it’s been such a great change in my life.”