Cedar Rapids Officially Recognized as Certified Blue Zones Community

Published: Mar. 8, 2016 at 9:42 PM CST
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Volunteers, city leaders, and community members in Cedar Rapids are celebrating a health goal that was three years in the making.

The city has officially become a certified Blue Zones Community, which means businesses, organizations and people living in the city have made changes for healthier lifestyles.

Cedar Rapids is one of 15 communities in Iowa that has received the certified designation or is working toward it. Others in eastern Iowa include Iowa City, Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Marion.

From doing Zumba to chowing down on veggies, many celebrated at the Helen G Nassif YMCA.

Shannon Keller could be found in the crowd. She's been involved with Blue Zones from the very beginning.

"It has gotten me more involved in my community. I have found all of these hidden gems that are lying within Cedar Rapids,” Keller said.

For Keller, it all started when she got involved in a walking group through Blue Zones. Since then, the group hasn't stopped moving.

"We walk every Tuesday and Thursday. In the winter months we generally walk inside at the mall. In summer months, when it is warmer, we try to hit Prairie Park Fishery. We walk on the Cedar Valley Trail,” Keller said.

Blue Zones staff members said there are a lot of people, like Shannon, who have seen individual change and success prompted by Blue Zones, but seeing the impact on the whole community could take a while.

"It really takes five to ten years to really shift the culture of a community towards health and wellbeing. So, we have made a lot of progress, in terms of what we have actually put in place, but when you are looking at the numbers of say people who have chronic diseases, we might not see that change for a little while,” said Former Cedar Rapids Blue Zones Program Manager Stephanie Neff.

The CEO of the Cedar Rapids Y who has taken part in the Blue Zones work says it's tough to measure the change.

"Living longer, healthier lifestyles is a really difficult thing to track because it's prevention. Prevention is hard to track, but I think what we are going to see is that the community is going to come to life with this. People are going to become more active,” Carlson said.

It's an active lifestyle that people like Shannon are living out and plan to continue with even after this certification celebration.

"I think it's fantastic. I wish more communities did this,” Keller said.

This has been the end goal for the past three years, volunteers and city leaders say this is just the beginning of the work. Now that the city is officially a Blue Zones Community, the city has established a Wellbeing Advisory Committee to keep the effort moving forward for years to come.