Mindy Kaling Shares the One Fitness Lesson She Wishes She Learned Earlier

The actor, writer, producer, and mom opens up about her shifting outlook on fitness and the importance of finding workouts she actually enjoys.

Mindy Kaling attends the 47th Annual People's Choice Awards in a black jeweled dress against a purple background
Photo: Getty Images

Early in her twenties, Mindy Kaling was a firm believer in theidea that working out needed to be "punishing" in order to be effective. To be "fit," she thought, you'd have to be able to run a 7-minute mile for 45 minutes straight — and then tackle an hour-long weightlifting session, Kaling tells Shape. Ultimately, these notions influenced how she viewed her place within the fitness space.

"I have always worked out, in any shape and size that I've been," says Kaling. "But I think I've felt not confident enough to own the fact that I'm someone who is an exerciser or loves fitness because I felt, like, 'Oh, I don't look a certain way — I don't want to try to pretend to be that.'"

Mindy Kaling on finding a new perspective on fitness

I feel like I've never been in better shape, and my outlook on working out has literally changed 180 from when I was 24.

— Mindy Kaling on finding a new perspective on fitness

Recently, however, Kaling's perspective on exercise has been overhauled. "It doesn't have to be punishing in order for you to be doing a great service to your body," says the 42-year-old. "I have, especially in the past couple of years, completely embraced that. I feel like I've never been in better shape, and my outlook on working out has literally changed 180 from when I was, like, 24. And I just wish I could have learned this earlier." (

Nowadays, Kaling sticks with activities and forms of movement that bring her joy — not grueling workouts "you're trying to get over as fast as possible," she says. Some days, she'll take a short walk on the beach while her kids are napping. Others, she'll try out a new fitness class with a friend, she says. "I truly am like, 'I want to find [exercise] joyous,'' says Kaling. "In order for me to keep wanting to do it — now that I have two children, I have my different shows on the air, and all my writing — I need for my workout, because it's such a precious time in the day, to be something that I'm really enjoying."

Mindy Kaling doing a tree pose on a yoga mat
Propel Fitness Water

Kaling's newfound desire to seek out and take on workouts that are actually gratifying made it a no-brainer for her to partner with Propel Fitness Water for the brand's latest campaign, which sets out to inspire exercisers to find the "Joy of Working Out." "I'm a person who tries to use my own work to spread joy — obviously, I work in comedy — and this message of inclusivity," she explains. "And I just really love that Propel Fitness Water wants to do the same with this campaign. Even though people are at different levels of fitness and everyone's on their own journey, we all can come together because we love movement in any form."

This embrace of all types of movement — not just sweat-dripping, heart-racing workouts — is key. Pre-pandemic, Kaling was a spin enthusiast, obsessed with the intensity and upbeat music, and typically bailed on stretching post-workout in order to snag a shower, she says. But lately, Kaling is finding joy in the activity she once skipped, and she now dedicates about half an hour to a "decadent" stretching routine once or twice a week, she adds.

During each workout session, she'll challenge herself to hold stretches for a full minute, not 10 seconds like she used to do, which has made a "huge difference" for her flexibility, says Kaling. "I have what they call showrunner's disease, which is, like, I clench my teeth and I have tightness in my jaw. So when I stretch, I'm stretching everything. I stretch my face and my jaw…my body's been really grateful for the extra attention."

While deep stretching is currently her go-to form of movement, Kaling admits that her workout of choice generally changes throughout the year. So when it comes time to test out something new, feeling physically and mentally satisfied will surely be a requirement. "I never want to be bored and I always want to find the joy of working out — that's made it so much easier to feel fit and healthy," says Kaling. "...Any way that you can get endorphins going is great, and there's no judgment about how you do it."

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