Take Five with…A.J. Cook: How I got into the ‘best shape of my life’

She takes down bad guys on TV and looks great doing it, but Criminal Minds star A.J. Cook says that she hasn’t always been this fit. “When I was younger, I tried to be like what I saw in magazines,” says the Canadian actress, 35. “[Later] I realized that I just needed to get to my perfect place for my body and health.” These days the busy mom is candid about her approach to fitness. “I’m not trying to be Gisele. I just want to be healthy for me and for my family so that I can be here for a very long time.” Before she returns to the set of the hit show’s milestone 10th season, we asked the L.A.-based star to tell us how she likes to stay active and about who inspires her to keep moving.

Dance took up a lot of my time when I was growing up. Now I’ve become a closeted performer — I’m always dancing around my house. As a kid, I would go to school, get picked up and go straight to the studio. I’d do class after class, then homework and then go back to dance classes. Even when I wasn’t at the studio, we’d be making up routines at home. I’m grateful that I was raised in such an active, creative family. I would love to take classes again, especially living out here in Los Angeles, where there are so many great dancers.

The two men in my life are huge motivators. My son, Mekhai, 5, was the game changer because I realized I wasn’t just thinking about me anymore. I want to be here a very long time for my son. Being a parent just lights that flame within. We all only have one life and I want to see all of it. I want to experience as much as I can and I want to be able to have my son experience everything. Health is the key to living life, so it’s a huge priority in my house.

I’m just trying to keep up with my husband, Nathan. Just having to stand next to that guy at the beach is motivation! We try to work out together but we have such different approaches to our workouts. He’s into CrossFit. I’ve tried it but it bulks me up too much. He loves it and it’s worked wonders for him. He looks like a totally different person, he’s incredibly healthy. The key is just to find what works for you, that’s the hardest part.

Working out always felt like a chore. When I found Pilates, it changed everything for me. All of a sudden working out became ‘me time.’ I first tried it after I had my son. I stumbled upon this Pilates studio and thought, ‘I’m going to give it a try.’ After my first class, I felt this interesting concoction of emotions because it was so hard but I knew I could conquer it. It reminded me of how I felt at the end of dance class. Your muscles feel like Jell-O and you’re soaked in sweat. I walked away feeling defeated but invigorated, and I knew that this was going to be my thing. I remember thinking, ‘Yes! This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life.’ I loved it.

We are such an active family. We live at the beach and we’re constantly outside. We’re always out in the sand, in the water, playing beach volleyball, building sandcastles or riding our bikes. We’re incredibly active — and usually pretty tired when we lay our heads down at night to go to sleep. I try to carve out the time to take that hour to go and exercise, but if I can’t, we just find other ways we can sweat. We love playing jump rope, too. It’s become a game but at the same time, it’s a workout!

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