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'Holistic Approach' To Employee Health Kicks Off With Kettlebell Record Attempt

KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

For years, businesses have tried different approaches to get workers to adopt healthy lifestyles: They’ve offered rewards; they’ve tried to get employees’ attention through their pocketbooks.

The University of Washington recently took a different tack — to break the Guinness World Record. Last Friday about a thousand UW employees turned out to take part in what they hoped to be the largest kettlebell workout ever.

The event launched a new employee initiative at the university. And it’s not your typical wellness program, said Mindy Kornberg, UW vice president for human resources. Kornberg explained the program is more holistic: “not just in terms of fitness, but nutritional, about financial, about emotional stability, about tapping into your own interests.”

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Kornberg said the idea to try and break a world record came from UW president Michael Young. Kornberg thought it would be a hard sell, but within 24 hours of posting an announcement online, more than a thousand people had signed up.

In case you’re wondering, a kettlebell is a ball made of cast iron with a handle on it and has become a popular workout tool.  

Mary Baardse of Housing and Food Services participated in the record attempt. While warming up at Dempsey Indoor Field, she said part of her New Year’s resolution was to get in shape. She hikes and bikes, but she had never used a kettlebell before. “I’ve always wanted to try one, I’ve read a lot about them,” she said, “so I thought it was a good time to give it a try.”

On the other end of the field, Robert Shields was using the down time before the event to catch up on work, grading papers. He, too, was new to kettlebell. “I just thought it was neat idea, to have a thousand people exercise,” he said, “so I figured I should participate.”

Why kettlebell? “They’re small, you get a great cardio workout, you get strength training, and they’re portable,” Kornberg said. “You can have them at your desk, you step away from your desk. For 15 minutes you can do a workout right there, and then you go back to working on what you were working on.”

The UW’s program doesn’t end with the kettlebell: The goal is to tap into different interests and get people engaged through different activities. “It’s about book club, it’s about gardening,” Kornberg said. “It’s about anything that’s a personal interest.”

Year started with KUOW: 1994