New Year, new you: Employee exercise classes build community
With the New Year comes a time to change and a season for starting fresh. Plenty of people take on health-related New Year’s resolutions that range from eating better to quitting smoking. While each resolution comes with its own challenges, King County employees can count on being supported in their resolution to stay physically fit, even at work.
The Healthy Incentives Healthy at Work program promotes fitness opportunities, healthy eating and other ways for employees to stay in great shape, but one of the most popular activities is a cardio-kickboxing class.
Held in the Chinook Activity Center three times a week during the lunch hour, the class ranges from 20 to 40 people and is a high-energy, intense workout. It is hugely popular due to both its convenience and technique.
Longtime King County employee Mari Conrad, a Functional Analyst in Executive Services (DES), first started teaching the class when the Chinook Building opened in 2007.
“The classes are great because it’s about motivating and encouraging people to make exercise fun,” she said. “It’s about enjoying yourself, not making fitness feel like a chore.”
“And it’s amazing that the facility is right here and is entirely free for King County employees.”
She loves how the classes energize and inspires employees to really value their health. Even just leading the classes has had a deep impact on her.
“It’s brought me so much joy by being a big part of my life,” she said. “It’s brought me out of my shell.”
“When I was in class and we were moving to killer music – sometimes hip hop, sometimes disco – you didn’t know who that crazy animal was.”
After leading the way for so long though, Mari has passed the torch to two other long-time teachers, who recently added a third recruit to their workout team.
Jessica Santos, a Detective with the King County Sheriff’s Office, Tracey Dang, a Human Capital Management Supervisor with DES and Charlotte Taylor, an Interpreter Scheduler with the Superior Court, are currently the lead teachers for the cardio-kickboxing classes.
The instructors have mixed up the style, using their personal preferences to make the classes appealing to employees who may not necessarily enjoy cardio-kickboxing.
“It’s called cardio-kickboxing, but it’s all things now,” said Jessica. “Since the workout routine and music is for the class, we’ll play whatever music feeds them to exercise. I don’t care, I say just have fun.”
While Jessica is known for her high impact workout routines that coordinate tough, defense-like moves with strong, punchy music, Tracey tends to offer low-impact workouts. She describes them as less “bouncy” and usually mixes in eclectic music.
“I just want people to make exercise part of their life,” she said. “So I’ll use Bollywood, country, Zumba music – whatever helps people to enjoy working out in different ways.”
Jessica recognizes that this variety is helping to make the classes more popular. She explains how having a successful fitness journey relies on being able to make exercise a regular part of life, especially when at work.
“It’s important to keep fitness in mind all the time,” she said. “We bring it to people in this one hour class, but it’s not just a class. Being healthy shouldn’t just be a diet or fitness program but a way of living.”
New teacher Charlotte Taylor agrees. With a challenging job and a busy personal schedule, her time to exercise was minimal. After trying traditional kickboxing classes, Zumba and running, she needed a change. When a coworker recommended a cardio-kickboxing class she decided to go. Not only did she immediately enjoy it, but also loved the focus on helping each person exercise at their own pace.
“I am so happy I decided to go because I got to know what ‘cardio’ means for this particular cardio-kickboxing class,” she said. “Sometimes its kickboxing, sometimes it’s dancing, sometimes it’s other things, but every time it is fantastic.”
Charlotte jumped in to get involved. By her third class, she was leading people in new moves. Although her routines focus mostly on dance, she knows that rigorous dance exercises are a great workout.
“I led the class for 40 minutes of dance and burned 680 calories,” she said. “So, even without the kickboxing aspect, it’s a calorie blaster. It’s an all-inclusive cardio workout.”
“You don’t have to be fit and you don’t have to be a dancer or kickboxer to take the class. You just have to want to have fun, and you will!”
Despite each of the teachers having a different exercise style, all of them appreciate the opportunity to connect with other King County employees in showing them the value of a healthy, happy lifestyle.
“From young people to grandmas struggling through cancer, relationships or other things, we’re more than just a class at Gold’s Gym or 24 Hour Fitness,” said Jessica.
“People like to come because they know we’re there for them,” adds Tracey.
“The people I’ve met over the years are like a second family to me,” concludes Mari. “I feel like I have made a difference in their lives, and because of that, I wouldn’t work anywhere else.”
Classes are held Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 1 p.m. at the Chinook Building Activity Center. For additional information about what classes are available, view the shared calendar “RR, NCOB Group Exercise Rm” within Outlook. Current classes offered include yoga, Tai Chi and several others. Besides being a great way to meet people and exercise, the classes help participants on the road to Gold for Healthy Incentives. Class members can log their activity online or with Text for Wellbeing for Healthy Incentives credit.
If you would like to teach a class, contact NCOBGroupExerciseRm.RR@kingcounty.gov for help with scheduling. The schedule at the Chinook building opens quarterly on the first of December, March, June, and September. Any employee can host an exercise class or instructor at a County worksite; additional information is available online. King County employees also have opportunities to join a full service gym offering King County discounts.