By The Gazette Editorial Board
Want to live to be 100? What are you willing to change?
Even better, what if we could improve all our chances of living long, healthy lives not through strict diets or grueling exercise routines, but by making subtle changes to our environment?
That’s the idea behind Blue Zones, a diffuse, comprehensive effort to improve a community’s overall well-being, based on the research of author Dan Buettner.
Monday’s kickoff of Cedar Rapids’ Blue Zones Project will launch a three-year effort to boost the city’s collective health and happiness. There has been some confusion about what that means, exactly. Suspicions that the idea must simply be too good to be true.
From what we can tell, the Blue Zones Project isn’t a panacea, but it is a valuable, sensible approach to better living.
We hope city, school and industry leaders follow through on their commitments to institutional change, and urge Cedar Rapidians to take advantage of the support being offered them to make healthy changes in their own lives.
What Are “Blue Zones”?
Blue Zones principles are based on lifestyle habits common to the world’s longevity “hot spots” — areas in places such as Greece, Costa Rica, Japan, Italy and California, where residents are significantly more likely to live long, healthy and satisfying lives.
Buettner calls his distillation of those communities’ commonalities “the Power 9.” They’re broad-reaching and comprehensive principles, recognizing the importance of concepts such as social networks and family alongside such public health standards as food choices and physical activity.
It’s not a weight loss plan, although people often lose weight as a result of Power 9-influenced lifestyle changes, Buettner told us in a phone call this week, and that may well be a goal.
Two years into a Los Angeles-area Blue Zones pilot has resulted in a 14 percent decrease in obesity rates and a 30 percent decrease in smoking, while control group figures remained roughly the same, according to Buettner.
The nation’s very first Blue Zones community, Albert Lea, Minn., which started working on Power 9 principles in 2009, has seen some lasting positive effects.
How it works
Cedar Rapids’ Blue Zones Project blueprint is a thick document containing nearly 100 pages analyzing our current environment, opportunities and locally identified goals.
Blue Zones’ four paid staffers and dozens of volunteers are working to implement the plan, encouraging city, school and business partners to make dozens of small, environmental changes — such as installing bike racks and bike lanes, changing zoning rules to allow more farmers markets and community gardens, encouraging outdoor dining, developing safe walking and biking routes to schools, and encouraging menus with modest changes in recipes that add up to healthier eating without major sacrifices of favorite foods.
The project is being funded through sponsorships and donations, not taxpayer dollars. Wellmark, Iowa’s sponsor, has committed to funding for at least five years.
The Gazette Company is one of many working on changes based upon the blueprint’s overall goal of “making healthy choices the easy choices.”
Individuals also can pledge to participate by registering online at http://tinyurl.com/kaccubp.
Why it matters
This is the second round of Blue Zones designations in Iowa, which Gov. Terry Branstad and other state leaders have vowed to make the country’s healthiest state by 2016. In addition to Cedar Rapids, Marion, Iowa City, Muscatine, Oskaloosa and Sioux City were chosen as demonstration sites in January.
It’s one of the handful of programs included in the governor’s Healthiest State Initiative, a response, in part, to the greatly increased rates of obesity and diabetes in our state and many others, which drive up health care costs for everyone.
It promises no quick fixes — some of the cultural shifts targeted by Blue Zones will take years or decades to take root. Some will falter. Still, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
While there’s no denying that personal responsibility and personal choice play big roles in individual health and well-being, our environment also plays a part.
We make so many choices out of habit and convenience — focusing our attentions, for a change, on policy and infrastructure changes that make it easier to choose wisely can only lead to good.
Comments: email@example.com or (319) 398-8262
C.R. Blue Zones launch is Monday
What: Community-wide celebration to kick off the Cedar Rapids Blue Zones Project for improved health and well-being. Hear about how you can be involved
When: Monday, doors open at 5 p.m., program at 6 p.m.
Where: Concert Hall at College Community Prairie High School
Guest speaker: Dan Buettner, New York Times best-selling author of The Blue Zones and Thrive
RSVP and more information: https://www.bluezonesproject.com/events