Blue Zones Project Kicks Off in Cedar Rapids

By Hayley Bruce, Reporter

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By Ellen Kurt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Cedar Rapids residents are about to see a lot more blue.

Monday night's kick-off event marks the beginning of the implementation phase for the Blue Zones project which is aimed at increasing community longevity and quality of life by making the healthy choice the easy choice.

The project is a cornerstone of the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, led by Gov. Terry Branstad, to make Iowa the healthiest state by 2016. Communities with Blue Zone status get funding and a staff to help people learn how to live longer with a better quality of life by bringing health initiatives to the city.

The initiative is funded by a 5-year, $25 million grant from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

The Blue Zones Project is based on principles from Dan Buettner's book, The Blue Zones, which examined people who live measurably longer and happier lives and which lifestyle characteristics might contribute to their longevity.

What to expect and how to get involved

In the coming weeks and months, Cedar Rapids residents should expect to see dozens of volunteers will work to encourage individuals, businesses, and schools to make small environmental changes intended to make a positive impact on their own well being, and that of the community.

Mary Lawyer, Vice President of the State Well-Being Initiative for the Blue Zones project, said the last six months have consisted of getting together a plan and using local volunteers and leadership to think through how to implement Blue Zone initiatives in places like restaurants, grocery stores, schools, and work sites and how to get people engaged.

"We've been putting that structure together and today's the day we're saying 'Hey, we're ready to Rock and Roll,'" Lawyer said Monday.

Buettner said visible changes will include volunteers in blue T-shirts actively trying to build people's social networks, 'Blue Zone'-labeled foods and aisles in local Hy-Vee stores and plant-based potlucks. People will also likely begin to hear about businesses and schools seeking Blue Zone designation.

To get involved, individuals are encouraged to take the personal pledge, which gives them access to Blue Zone events that include a workshops on ways to volunteer and get involved, a walking moai group kick-off and purpose workshops.

Individuals can pledge to participate by registering online at bluezonesproject.com.

Tracking success

Over the next few years, improvement will be tracked through the Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index, which takes a representative sample of people and asks them 90 questions about their health, life satisfaction, work satisfaction, access and emotional health. The survey is national, and gathers data about the well-being of people in every state.

"We have to demonstrate measurable success before it can scale statewide," Buettner said.

The survey will be repeated every year, and Cedar Rapids' success will be measured by the results.

Buettner said he thinks each individual community demonstration of the Blue Zones Project will help the state to improve as a whole.

"Quite honestly I think the deck is stacked in our favor, because we're just going to see the 'A' students first and it's going to be easier to be successful here," said Buettner." And I think once we become successful here it will elevate some of the local initiatives to the state level and there will be a much clearer pathway for smaller towns around Cedar Rapids to follow suit."

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