Ashley Graham and Kristen Bell Bonded Over Their Mental Health Approach to Working Out

"It was something that I had to learn to embrace because of my mental health."

Kristen Bell and Ashley Graham
Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images/Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Ashley Graham and Kristen Bell are easily two of the most authentic celebrities in Hollywood, even when it comes to discussing tough, potentially touchy topics like motherhood, family, and relationships. In a new conversation for Elle, the pair discussed everything from stretch marks, to allyship amid the Black Lives Matter movement, to their individual relationships to fitness.

Bell and Graham commiserated over the fact that, especially in quarantine, working out has been hugely beneficial for their mental health.

"I have such anxiety and depression ebbing and flowing that one way I balance it is by working out," shared Bell, who's been keeping up with daily live-stream workouts led by Los Angeles-based trainer, Charlie Curtis.

"Working out has been so important for my mental health and sanity," echoed Graham, sharing that she teams up with her mom a few times a week for virtual workouts with her trainer, Kira Stokes. "Half the time I can barely keep up and I wimp out halfway through, but I like doing it with thousands of other people," explained Graham. "Maybe they're just sitting there watching and commenting, or maybe they're actually working out; either way, it makes me feel like I'm not alone. It keeps me accountable knowing other people are expecting it and looking forward to it because it's keeping them sane, too." (

Even though Graham and Bell are big on the mental health benefits of exercise now—especially during the coronavirus pandemic—that wasn't always the case for the pair. During their Elle interview, the Veronica Mars alum admitted that fitness was "never a priority" for her growing up. "It was something that I had to learn to embrace because of my mental health," shared Bell.

Graham, on the other hand, said that her parents are "big-time athletes" who both played sports in college. "They kind of bred us to be athletic," explained Graham. "We didn't really get the opportunity to choose if we wanted to play sports or not. They just kind of threw us into it. We played basketball, soccer, volleyball, and a little bit of softball. We've just always moved our bodies and gotten sweaty and been active."

But when she moved to New York City to pursue modeling at 17 years old, Graham began hearing constant criticism about her body—something that simply "didn't motivate" her to keep up with a workout routine, she shared.

"Eventually, I came to realize that working out made me feel good," continued Graham. "Something I like to say now is, 'Motion is lotion.' If I'm not moving my body, it's going to get tight and achy—and when I am moving my body, it feels loose and I feel fearless, like I can do anything."

Of course, fans know this is far from the first time these famous mamas have helped shift the prevailing narrative around working out. Bell recently noted on Instagram that she doesn't "work out to get a certain body shape." Instead, she shared, "I work out for my mental health. And I notice a BIG difference when I do and when I don't [work out]. When I don't, I'm sad, irritable, anxious, and lethargic. When I do, I'm content, motivated, peaceful, and energetic." (See: Kristen Bell Opened Up About the "Big Difference" Exercise Makes In Her Mental Health)

As for Graham, she's long been a source of inspiration when it comes to fitness—not just because she's an absolute badass in the gym, but also because she appreciates what fitness allows her body to do, from crushing intense cardio drills to having a positive experience with natural childbirth.

"I honestly believe working out throughout my whole pregnancy helped my labor—it only lasted six hours!" Graham told Bell in their Elle interview. "I'm so glad that I did so much cardio and so many squats in my third trimester."

The main takeaway from Graham and Bell's conversation on mental health and exercise? Progress is more important than perfection. Case in point: "I did cancel on my trainer this morning because I just didn't want to get out of bed. So there is that," admitted Graham. To which Bell graciously replied: "No one's striving for perfection here."

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