Nicole Ari Parker may be best known for playing Giselle Barker on Empire, but being an actress isn’t her only role — she’s also a mom of two and an entrepreneur with her own line of activewear headbands called Gymwrap. Now she’s teamed up with her husband, Boris Kodjoe, to create KoFit, a new health and wellness app full of workouts, meditations and nutrition advice.
SheKnows caught up with Parker (who’s also a former BlogHer speaker) to talk about fitness, motherhood, entrepreneurship and more. Her message is empowering and inspiring, and we’re so ready to download the app!
SheKnows: Let’s talk a little bit about your fitness app, KoFit. How did it get started?
Nicole Ari Parker: My husband and his brother, Patrick Kodjoe, started it. Patrick is a certified trainer and nutritionist. Boris always has the heart of service and helping people. It’s all about finding ways for people to fit in their healthy habits, because it’s almost like the fitness industry has hijacked being fit. Even when you think about doing a sit-up, now you think about what shoes you have, how much time you have, which outfit you have, the people you’re going to run into and the sweat after, you know?
By the time you do the workout, change after the workout, do your hair after the workout, get in the car and deal with traffic, it’s like an hour and a half just to do a 30-minute class. If you are a very busy mom who’s running a business with two kids, you can’t imagine spending that amount of time.
SK: What kind of workouts can people expect with the app?
NAP: We were really trying to figure out a way to not focus so much on weight loss, but healthy habits. The way you shower, brush your teeth and put on your clothes, you can also fit in five minutes of fitness. So we have five-minute workouts that you can do twice to turn them into 10-minute workouts. We also have 20-minute workouts.
We also think of health as well-rounded, so we have mindfulness, we have daily messages. My sister-in-law — Patrick’s wife — is also named Nicole. Her name is Nicole Kodjoe. She is a yoga instructor, and so she puts in five minute yoga stretches and poses that relieve stress. She also does yoga workouts in the park.
SK: Sounds like the whole family is participating. What’s it like behind the scenes?
NAP: Boris and I are doing it every day. We’re waking up Patrick and Nicole, who are in Texas, to do their videos. We’re shooting the videos and editing them. It really is a family affair. That’s why on Instagram it’s called KoFit Family.
I get to represent the people who are like, “Really? I just can’t.” So in a couple of my videos, I’ve literally been in bed, or standing next to the bed in my pajamas or pulling Boris out of a deep sleep to do exercises with me.
SK: What is Boris’s relationship with fitness?
NAP: He’s just hot. No, I make that joke, but he has his own story. When Boris was 12 years old, he was diagnosed with a degenerative bone disease. He was an aspiring tennis player, and he was growing tall, very fast. He was struggling with severe pain.
The doctor said to him, “You’re going to have to work out every single day, just for 20 minutes, for the rest of your life or you’ll be in a wheelchair by 17 or 18 years old, and you have to take all of these vitamins, and you have to watch what you eat.” So, at a very young age, his mom sat him down and said, “I’ve got three kids. I am a working mom and I love you and I need to know that you can be responsible for yourself. I’m going to take care of you and then motivate you to do your exercises, but you have to do them, Boris.”
She empowered him to wake up and do his 20 minutes every day. So the body that I’m joking about now is literally because he’s been working out for 20 to 30 minutes every day for the past 35 years. And so that’s what he looks like at 46. He’s not a gym rat. That’s what happens when you make it a lifestyle choice. So the tone of this app is like right in his zone of how to make it happen and how to make it work.
SK: And you’re seeing a positive response to the app so far. Why do you think people are enjoying it?
NAP: The response has been unbelievable because people have been convinced that they don’t have time for fitness. Then they see us knocking out a five-minute workout in our trailer. And they really are fitting it in. So all these studies are being done right now suggesting it is better to do the five- or 10-minute workout every single day, than it is to knock out a power cycling class and then flatline for 10 days.
Taking five minutes at the start of your day, or the close of your day, in the middle of your day, stimulates your circulation. If we’re sitting or constantly driving, things need to be rejuvenated: your heart rate, your circulation, your muscles, your caloric expenditure.
But then there’s also the stress relief. Taking five minutes in the break room or on the stairwell, to do 20 jumping jacks, 20 pushups against the wall, 20 squats, and some twisting stretches, means you’re empowered in your mind, you’ve given your mind a break and you’ve done something for your body.
We’re also very inclusive about people who have injuries, like knee injuries. They can’t do squats and lunges. And people who are differently-abled, or do adaptive sports, who are in wheelchairs or use walkers. We do seated workouts. We just shot all this new content with kids who are adaptive athletes in wheelchairs. We’ve done them for our senior citizens.
This app has activated this wonderful, “grab a family member and go” feeling that’s spreading like wildfire. And I think that’s what’s really made my husband and his brother the happiest, is keeping families together.
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SK: Aside from exercising, how else do you practice self-care?
NAP: I put my phone down. It’s really hard, but I do it. I take baths. My bath is like a moment, with essential oils and soaps and candles. And I read books. I check in with my parents. We’re all moving so fast that we forget sometime and we’re texting. Who calls anybody anymore?
Also, I keep a gratitude journal. I write with my husband every day, things that I’m grateful for, and that takes about seven minutes. We put on quiet music for those seven minutes. It feels so good to just say thank you. There’s a lot to be grateful for.
SK: Of course, we have to ask about Empire. You’re shooing the final season now. What will you miss about the show?
NAP: Oh, the clothes. I think one outfit I had cost the rent of my first New York apartment. Just the shoes and the bag alone.
I’m really going to miss working with all these great actors the most.
SK: Now that you’re an entrepreneur and have these health-focused causes in addition to acting, how is it a different outlet for you?
NAP: That’s a good question. I don’t really feel that different because I think as a young girl who wanted to be an actor, I didn’t even necessarily want to be, like a TV star. I really loved theater and I loved make-believe, but I also loved connecting with people. I feel like this is a natural extension of that.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.