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Aja Naomi King On Staying Committed to Tough Workouts and Causes That Matter

Aja Naomi King likes to push herself. Today, for instance, she spent three hours biking up a mountain. "It was straight uphill; there were bugs flying in my eyes, it was intense," says the actress, 33, who stars in the show How to Get Away with Murder. "But I did it. Being able to accomplish something that you thought you couldn't do is the best feeling."

Aja channels that same drive into the advocacy work she does. "Activism has become so important to me," she says. "It's about using your voice and action to help effect change." For Aja, that means being on the artistic advocacy board for Opening Act, a nonprofit in Brooklyn, New York, that helps underserved kids build confidence and creativity through performance and writing, and working with the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization that advocates for women around the world. (Here are 14 things you can buy to support women's health organizations.)

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Photo: Ben Watts

Female power is an issue Aja is passionate about. As an ambassador for L'Oréal Paris, she says she's proud to be part of the company's annual Women of Worth event, which honors women who are making a change in their communities. "They are so inspiring—they're doing things like feeding the hungry," she says. And she just finished shooting A Girl from Mogadishu, a film about a Somali woman fighting to end female genital mutilation. “All the things I’m involved in now are about women standing up for themselves,” Aja explains.

Taking action is what makes Aja strong mentally; living a healthy lifestyle is what keeps her powerful physically. Here are the four things that tie it all together.

Focus

“Working out has become my time to reflect on my life and the things that matter to me. I think it’s so important for us to quiet the noise around us. As women, we are constantly thinking ahead and trying to solve every problem. We are so worried about tomorrow that we barely have time to experience and enjoy what is happening right now. Exercise lets me appreciate where I am in this moment.”

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Photo: Ben Watts

Strength

“I’ve been doing a lot of weight lifting, and I’m proud of myself. It’s exhilarating because I’m able to see the difference in my power so quickly. It makes me feel really strong. When I’m in my 90s, God willing, I want my body to be active—I don’t want someone else to have to take care of me. Exercise is a commitment to my independence in the future.” (Related: The Slow Strength Training Workout That'll Help You See Gains Faster)

Joy

“I eat healthy, but I also love desserts. I have a passion for crème brûlée, chocolate cake, and ice cream. I feed my body for energy, but I also want to feed my spirit with things that make me happy. It’s important to have a positive relationship with food. For me, there’s no such thing as a cheat day because eating isn’t cheating.” (Here's why the anti-diet is the healthiest diet you could ever be on.) 

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Photo: Ben Watts

Passion

“For two years, I’ve mentored a young woman through Opening Act. The group works with schools that have a low graduation rate and gives kids a safe space in which they can play, create, and communicate their feelings. Opening Act has given my mentee confidence, and I’m so happy to be a part of that. I’m also very excited to be working with the Center for Reproductive Rights. They deal with policy makers to create legislation. Now they’re working on a bill called the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prevent states from enacting laws that could deprive women of the reproductive health care they need. I hope to help amplify that message and visit Congress with them to present the bill.”

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