Book’s author in Albert Lea to kick off project

Published 9:17 am Thursday, January 15, 2009

Award-winning author and Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner said he is thrilled about the Albert Lea pilot AARP/Blue Zones City Health Makeover that is under way.

St. Paul native Buettner, who has appeared on CNN, “David Letterman,” “Good Morning America,” “Primetime Live,” and “Today” for his research on longevity, has traveled all over the world and met the world’s longest-lived people. He’s learned that all of these people, no matter where they live, all follow nine simple principles that put them on a path to a longer life. These principles are portable and have nothing to do with pills, surgery or medication. Instead, they are principles of everyday life, such as the foods they ate, the company they kept and their perspectives on life.

Now, in an attempt to share some of these tips, AARP and Blue Zones are coming together in a pilot project to improve the health and longevity of Albert Lea residents.

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Buettner arrived in Albert Lea Wednesday night to get ready to kick off the project today.

He said he can remember back to when he first gave his presentation about the makeover to a group of Albert Lea community leaders. The mayor was there, along with the superintendent of Albert Lea Schools and some other major employers, he noted, and he presented a model of raising life expectancy.

After the presentation, it was silent, and at first Buettner was nervous of the reaction he would receive, he said. Then, however, Albert Lea City Manager Victoria Simonsen broke the silence and said, “This is exactly what we need,” he recalled.

“I breathed a big sigh of relief, and a big smile came across my face,” Buettner said. “It was right then that I knew we had a project.”

He said Albert Lea represents an average American community in terms of rates of obesity and overweight people. But in Albert Lea, the people do very well in terms of life expectancy.

That means if there is a high level of participation in the makeover, there is a good chance Albert Lea’s life expectancy can be raised to the top in the country, he said. The project will also bring a lot of national attention if there is high participation.

“You’re never too old to increase your life expectancy,” Buettner said. “Of course the younger you start, the more potential you have. But even 80-year-olds can look at a couple years of life expectancy.”

During the makeover, the country’s top experts will be coming to Albert Lea.

Americans have become the way they are today, he said, because they have mechanized so much of the non-exercise physical activity in their lives. That activity provides much more for the average calorie burn than 20 minutes on the treadmill, he noted.

Americans are also the victims of between 200 and 300 advertisements per day, and many send messages of what to eat.

“We typically don’t get the subliminal and not so subliminal messages to eat healthy foods,” he said.

The fast-food industry has also had a major impact on the state of Americans’ health, he added. The average American could live 12 more years than they’re living.

Buettner said he wants people to know that no diet in the history of the world has ever worked and he and the other experts are not even coming in with an exercise program.

“All we’re doing is bringing the top experts to look at four environmental domains,” he said. “What we’re hoping to do is have an influence on the physical environment in how the community is laid out, how people organize their social circles, how they organize their homes and kitchens and how people organize their inner self.

“It’s not asking for a lot. A few small things will produce a big benefit.”