Health Makeover leaders give update

Published 8:59 am Monday, March 16, 2009

The local leaders of the health makeover sponsored by AARP and Blue Zones are showing their excitement for the opportunity Albert Lea has to improve the health of the city’s residents.

It’s been about two months since AARP and Blue Zones officials officially announced that Albert Lea was chosen as the focus of the 10-month pilot health makeover. And there’s already been a lot more done than some may think.

Local makeover co-chairman Bob Graham said Albert Lea is in the middle of the first phase of the project, which focuses on improving the community environment.

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Leslie Lytle from the University of Minnesota has met with school administrators and food service representatives about offering healthier food choices in schools, Graham said. Brian Wansink, the executive director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, has met with restaurant owners and managers and shared ideas to increase health and likely reduce operating costs. Wansink is overseeing the 2010 dietary guidelines and Food Guide Pyramid.

International transportation expert Dan Burden has conducted a walkability study of the city’s roadways and sidewalks, and residents have started meeting to discover how to make Albert Lea more walkable and bikeable.

Soon, city residents will be able to learn more about how to emphasize social networks, how to improve their habitats and how to find a sense of purpose — the other three domains of the project.

The hope is that through the makeover, which encourages the best practices of the world’s longest-lived populations, can establish a scalable public health initiative that can be replicated by other American communities.

It encourages people to make subtle but powerful changes to their personal living environments, so that with changes on both the community and individual level, long-term benefits can be created. The goal is to add at least two years of projected life expectancy for each participant.

At 6:30 p.m. on March 19, Joel Spoonheim, health initiatives director for Blue Zones, will present the findings from his January walking audit at the Albert Lea Senior Center. These findings will encourage movement and a social connection among the city’s residents.

On April 2, Blue Zones Founder Dan Buettner will speak about his upcoming quest to Icaria, Greece, to discover whether that city is the fifth and possibly last Blue Zone in the world.

Buettner has traveled all over the world and met the world’s longest-lived people. He’s learned that all of those people, no matter where they live, all follow certain principles that put them on a path to a longer life. These are principles of everyday life, such as the foods they ate, the company they kept and their perspectives on life.

Buettner will lead assemblies for Albert Lea fourth- through eighth-graders and invite them to participate in his live expedition as he unlocks longevity secrets. His quest to Icaria is April 20 through May 1.

This will be an opportunity for children and parents to get jointly involved, Graham said. The children will get to participate daily in Buettner’s quest.

At 7 p.m. April 2, the public is invited to hear Buettner speak about the mission in the Albert Lea High School Auditorium.

Then, on May 14, AARP and Blue Zones officials will kick off the second phase of the makeover at 7 p.m. in the Albert Lea High School Auditorium, where the goal is to have 1,000 people in attendance.

March 19: Joel Spoonheim, health initiative director with Blue Zones, will present the findings from international walkability expert Dan Burden’s walking audit. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Albert LeaSenior Center.

April 2: “The Blue Zones” author Dan Buettner will speak about his upcoming quest to Icaria, Greece, during which he and his team of scientists will discover if Icaria is the fifth Blue Zone in the world. During the school day, Buettner will lead assemblies at local schools, and the students will be invited to participate in his live expedition. At 7 p.m. that evening, the public is invited to hear about the quest at 7 p.m. in the Albert Lea High School Auditorium.

May 14: AARP and Blue Zones officials will officially kick off the second phase of the makeover at 7 p.m. in the Albert Lea High School Auditorium. The goal is to have more than 1,000 people at the kickoff.

Local makeover co-chairman Chris Chalmers said at the kickoff people will be given a participation packet with a menu of changes they can choose from to make to their lifestyles.

That’s when the more personal level of the makeover will begin.

“It’s a great opportunity for everyone to be involved, even if they’re healthy, because we’re creating a model for Blue Zones to take to other places,” said Wendy Flugum, community development assistant.

It will also be a time for Albert Lea to receive some national recognition.

“It’s the first really positive news that has come out of Albert Lea in a long, long time,” Graham said. “It’s a really exciting opportunity.”

“Now’s the opportunity for people to really get involved,” Chalmers added. “It’s a great time to start something new. It’s spring, and it’s a new project and new growth.”

If people are interested in hearing a presentation about the makeover at organizations or service groups, people can contact Flugum at 377-4315 or to schedule a presentation.

If people want to become a volunteer for the makeover, they can e-mail

Buettner’s New York Times bestselling book “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” is available for purchase at Celebrations Party & Gifts and at Doyle’s Hallmark. It can be checked out at the Albert Lea Public Library.