Taraji P. Henson Shares How Exercise Helped Her Cope with Depression During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a slew of unexpected changes to so many people's daily routines — Taraji P. Henson included. Like countless others, extra time at home during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic meant enjoying homemade banana bread and sipping cocktails at any hour of the day for Henson. But soon enough, the Empire alum noticed that her newfound lockdown lifestyle began to negatively impact her mental health.
In a new interview with Women's Health, Henson explains that she acknowledged she had to switch things up when she woke up one morning with crumbs in her bed and a Cheeto stuck to her face. "That's when I realized I had to do everything I could to feel good, or that depression thing was going to get the best of me," she says. "When I get those endorphins going, I'm like a whole different girl."
Henson has been unfailingly open about her struggles with anxiety and depression, even sharing last December that she grappled with suicidal thoughts earlier in the pandemic. In an episode of her Facebook Watch series, Peace of Mind with Taraji, the actress revealed that she was having trouble getting out of bed and found herself "withdrawing" even though her loved ones were reaching out to her. "It's called suicide ideation and it's not that you're really gonna go forth with it, it's just thoughts running through your mind when you're at your lowest," Henson later explained to Entertainment Tonight. "And for me, because I'm in therapy, I knew that saying it out loud and getting it out of my head would deaden it." (ICYDK, Henson is also the founder of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which has provided free mental health services to hundreds of people.)
Thankfully, she's recently shared that she's doing "much better." But her path out of this aforementioned "dark moment" wasn't only paved by increased attention to and care for her mental health. And as Henson told Women's Health, connecting with her body through movement has also been a game-changer for her overall health. How does she do this, exactly? By working out five days a week with celebrity trainer Mike T. of Force Fitness — something she's been doing since August 2020, according to the magazine. With a focus on building stamina and strength, Henson kicks off her workouts with a 16-minute walk on the treadmill, followed by an hour of lifting weights, cardio, and ample abdominal work, including sets of reverse curls to work the rectus abdominis (the so-called "six-pack" muscles) and twists to work the obliques (which run along the side of your midsection). (Read more: The Complete Guide to Your Abs Muscles)
The Oscar nom's favorite moves, however, target the peach, telling Women's Health that she loves "anything to do with the butt," especially squats, lunges, and deadlifts, the latter of which she says took her a while to master. Today, though, Henson seems to be quite the pro at executing an effective deadlift — so much so that she actually demonstrates what she's learned during her interview with the publication. "You have to keep your feet parallel and let your arms dangle," she explains while hinging at her hips. "Your focus should be on your glutes and hamstrings, so you actually feel the pull when you're coming up." (Related: The Complete Guide to Deadlifts)
No matter the workout of your choosing, though, sweating on the regular (à la Henson) can deliver a myriad of science-backed benefits for both your physical and mental health. Case in point? The flood of feel-good chemicals that Henson mentions earlier in her interview (see: endorphins), which has been shown to boost your mood and help keep you calm for hours post-workout. And while restarting her training regime and taking care of her mental health both played a part in helping her rise from the depths of that early pandemic depression, Henson wants others to know that they're not alone in whatever they might be struggling with. "I want people to know that it's never too late for anything," she says in the feature. "You can get your health together and live out your wildest dreams." (Up next: How Taraji P. Henson Ditched Her Food Guilt — and Stopped Comparing Herself to Others)