Actress Kathy Najimy was characteristically candid as she addressed a crowd of more than 7,000 at the 2012 Zumba Instructor Convention.
“Who would have ever thought I’d be the face or the body or the person who would advocate any kind of fitness?” she said with a laugh as she accepted the Zumba Fitness Ambassador Award.
But after losing 50 pounds and keeping it off with the help of Zumba, the actress best known for her roles in Sister Act and TV’s Veronica’s Closet, began singing the praises of the Latin-inspired dance aerobics workout on the talk-show circuit.
“I looked for a workout I could do on a regular basis and not dread,” she said. “I want to dance and laugh and have fun. And I literally got to dance my ass off!”
After her keynote address, we caught up with Kathy, who will appear in the movie The Guilt Trip with Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand this winter, to find out how her life has changed since discovering an exercise regimen she loves.
Spry: You lost weight in a very healthy way: changing your diet and exercising. Had you tried other methods of before?
Kathy Najimy: I’ve considered surgery at different times. I have no judgment about that. In this country, you’re born without a choice—being fat is the worst thing you can be. I’ve tried every soup fast, every watermelon diet, spas, everything. Do I have it licked? No. But I’m proud that I’ve made some dents. When I feel myself slipping, I always just start exercising again. It’s more for me about doing the very best I can do on any given day, whether that’s going to a Zumba class or just taking a walk on the river.
Spry: Other than the weight loss, have you noticed any other physical benefits of working out regularly?
KN: Definitely my joints. The pain in my knees and lower back has really lightened up. I have more energy and can walk a lot faster. When we look for apartments in New York, now I can buy one with stairs. I sleep better, and I feel better. I’m diabetic, so that has improved.
Spry: What about mental health benefits?
KN: I’m apt to say yes more now. I’m not afraid—will I fit into that ride? Will I fit into the seat on the plane? I have more confidence to say yes to jobs. I don’t have to worry about finding a costume that will fit me. That part of it is somewhat relieved. We’re going to Martha’s Vineyard soon and it used to be that I’d think, ‘Can I get away with a long black skirt?” And honestly, being a known person who has to go to premieres and things, it is just easier not to have to go to a specialty store to find something to wear. That was a pain.
Spry: What made you try Zumba?
KN: I’ve been dancing my whole life, and I knew it was dance-based. I’ve worked out with a trainer before, and that worked fine. Anything you do works—it’s what you keep going to. For me that’s Zumba. Dancing doesn’t seem boring to me.
Spry: Were you intimidated the first time you went to class? Were you worried you’d be recognized, for instance?
KN: No, people leave me alone. I’m there in my linty sweatpants and no one bothers me. (laughs) It’s great!
Spry: What do you tell people who are interested in trying Zumba?
KN: Zumba is a great, no-pressure workout. You don’t have to wear a certain outfit. That’s why a lot of people don’t go to classes. They think they don’t have the right leotard. But everybody is welcome, all sizes. And there’s no hierarchy—in fact, there’s often a really bad dancer in the front row! When I try to get friends to come to class with me, they say, “I’m not a good dancer,” and I say, “No one will look at you!” The story I told in my speech was true—my first class I had to take a break after 10 minutes. But nobody’s going to say where are you going, or scold you for leaving. No one cares.