The Rise of Blue Zones in America

Places that Encourage Healthy Living



Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock.com

Dan Buettner’s book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest launched a movement a decade ago. Sequels include The Blue Zones of Happiness, The Blue Zones Solution and Thrive. Many communities have embraced the principles of this “make healthy living easier” paradigm, resulting in the improved well-being of residents.

“Add more years to your life and more life to your years,” says Nick Buettner, vice president at Blue Zones LLC, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the founder’s brother who spoke with us. “The people around you, the places where you work, live and play, and the social norms in your community have an impact on your health.”

The original U.S. pilot project in 2009, in Albert Lea, Minnesota, is a prime example. Instead of widening a main thoroughfare and raising the speed limit, the city widened the sidewalk and created a path around nearby Fountain Lake, offering safe exercise for bikers, joggers and walkers. The Hy-Vee grocery increased its health market section from two to seven aisles, leading to a 130 percent rise in related sales, and added a Blue Zones checkout lane for healthy grab-and-go options. City workplaces now offer quiet rooms and fruit instead of candy; one business converted a garage to a pickleball court.

Blue Zone Basics

Move Naturally – Even at work, get up and move at least once every 20 minutes.

Reduce Stress – Take a nap, nature walk or meditate.

Act Intentionally – “People that feel they have a reason to get out of bed in the morning tend to live seven years longer than those who just go through the motions,” says Buettner. A strong sense of purpose defines quality of life.

Eat Healthy – Enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet. One cup of beans a day adds three to four years in life expectancy. Plant a garden to grow fresher, pesticide-free food. Eat meat an average of five times a month and in small-portioned stir-fry, soups and pasta. Consume fewer calories. Drink wine in moderation. Check out BlueZones.com/recipes.

Maintain Relationships – “If you have fewer than three friends, it’s the equivalent of smoking for 20 years,” Buettner maintains. “Growing old in place and staying at home instead of a retirement or nursing home is easier to accomplish when you have a social network.” Meet regularly with friends.

The five original Blue Zones are Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Sardinia, Italy.

Have Faith – A faith-based life taps into a larger resource far greater than oneself and enhances a sense of purpose, social network and calm content.

Prioritize Family – Amid the busyness of life, make the most enjoyable family time and nurturing activities each day’s first choice. “Over the last four years in Florida, our sponsor, NCH Healthcare System, has helped to build well-being infrastructure and sustainability for approximately 400,000 people; that swells to nearly 1.2 million during high season from January to April,” says Deb Logan, executive director of Blue Zones Project-SWFL (Southwest Florida). “We have 33 Blue Zone-approved restaurants that collectively make an additional 176 plant-based menu items available locally; the first half of this year, they sold 130,000 Blue Zones-inspired dishes.”

The healthful community philosophy was vital in Hawaii, when the Kīlauea Volcano spewed lava, sulfur dioxide and acid rain. First-responders staffed checkpoint stations around the clock to protect the public from dangerous areas, exposing themselves to combined sun and volcanic heat. The Hawaiian Blue Zone team delivered smoothies, beverages and paletas—healthy popsicles made with real fruit—to help workers stay cooler. They also delivered them to volunteers and public service groups, including Hope Services Hawaii, which built tiny houses for families displaced by volcanic activity.

“We don’t come into an area and say, ‘This is what you must do.’ We say, ‘This is what you can do.’ The readiness must come from the city level, businesses, schools and nonprofits,” Buettner says. “The right leadership must be committed and prepared to follow through on multiple years of initiatives.”

He remarks, “In the end, my hope for the future lies in the fact that communities care about their health. Blue Zones isn’t about the quantity of years, but the quality of life, and often that adds years, too.”


Connect with the freelance writer via AveryMack@mindspring.com.

 

Blue Zone-Certified Cities

Certified communities have achieved their predetermined goals (outlined in project blueprints) as attested to via a combination of the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index and community-reported metrics.

California—Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach

Iowa—Algona, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Fairfield, Harlan, Iowa City, Marion, Mason City, Muscatine, Oskaloosa, Sioux City, Spencer, Spirit Lake, Waterloo, Woodbine

Minnesota—Albert Lea

Cities and other areas transforming to Blue Zone status

Hawaii—East/North/West Hawaii, Kapolei/Ewa, Koolaupoko, Manoa/Makiki/McCully/Moiliili, Wahiawa, Wailuku/Kahului (aka Central Maui)

Oklahoma—Pottawatomie County

Oregon—The Dalles, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Umpqua

Southwest Florida—Ave Maria, Bonita Springs, Estero, Golden Gate, Immokalee, Naples/East Naples

Texas—Fort Worth

Wisconsin—Beaver Dam, Horicon, Juneau, Mayville


This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Head, Heart and Gut

Instead of always falling into a default mode of old behaviors, it’s important to check with our built-in guidance system before undertaking a course of action.

Autism's Gut-Brain Axis

Almost half of autistic children have gastrointestinal symptoms, and the more severe the symptoms, the more severe the autism, studies show.

Blood Chemistry

A comprehensive functional blood chemistry analysis can reveal in-depth insight into our health and well-being.

Kick-Start Organ Vitality

Using simple strategies to revitalize five vital organs is a powerful way to kick off our well-being in the new year.

Dustin Sulak on Cannabis as a Healing Therapy

Medical marijuana offers therapeutic potential for people suffering from chronic pain, trauma and other conditions that defy standard medical care, says a pioneering Maine osteopath.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags

See More »This Month

New Book Claims that God’s True Identity is Holy Mother Mary

The Holy Mother Mary Is GOD is a non-denominational book that aims to reveal great mysteries.

Traditional Thai Massage

Thai massage, a balanced blend of physical, energetic and spiritual healing techniques and concepts, is a skillful combination of applying broad and targeted acupressure.

Healthy Fun at Infinity Foundation Family Fair

The Infinity Foundation presents its seventh annual educational and fun FUNtastic Family Fair: Healthy Choices for Healthy Families, at the Highland Park Country Club.

Dr. Millicent L. Knight

Dr. Millicent L. Knight was recently awarded the Alumnus of the Year Professional Achievement Award of the Illinois College of Optometry.

Mata Traders Winner of People & Planet Award

Mata Traders has been named a winner of Green America’s quarterly People & Planet award.

Heal the Body and Enrich the Spirit

Authors Patricia Monaghan and Eleanor Viereck have updated their popular book: Meditation – The Complete Guide: Techniques from East to West to Calm the Mind, Heal the Body, and Enrich the Spirit.