Moai initiative kicks off

Published 10:35 am Friday, June 19, 2009

Leaders with the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project kicked off the walking moai initiative Thursday night for Albert Lea residents interested in boosting their social connections, friendships, physical activity and overall good habits.

Across Albert Lea at four locations — Southwest Middle School, Albert Lea High School, Brookside Education Center and Halverson Elementary School — coordinators of the initiative met with residents interested in getting on board and forming their own moai — or close group — who they can walk with, share life’s stories with and develop friendships with.

“This is not a walking group,” said Erica Anderson, a representative with Blue Zones, during the Southwest kickoff. “It’s more about creating relationships, creating friends.”

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The walking moai program is one of many initiatives planned as part of the Vitality Project, which is aimed at helping Albert Lea residents live longer, healthier lives.

A moai is a term that originates in the city of Okinawa, Japan, where children are put into small groups with other children when they are young. The children stay with the other members of their group throughout their lives. They walk together, talk together, garden together, eat together and share life’s experiences together, Anderson said. They share the joys of life together, along with the hard times, and create strong bonds.

“You’re never alone, you’ve always got somebody who’s got your back,” Anderson said.

The group also helps reinforce good behaviors, she said.

The goal with the walking moai in Albert Lea is to create something similar as in Okinawa, where people are engaged and connected to each other. The walking is a side benefit.

Connection to others has a direct connection to longevity, a statistic which is backed up by a lot of data, Anderson said.

Plus, if people are engaged with others who are striving to be healthy, there’s a better chance they will strive to be healthy as well.

She cited a statistic that states if people have three close friends who are overweight or obese, then they have a 50 percent chance of being overweight or obese.

The same is true for drinking and smoking.

After briefly explaining the basis of a moai, Anderson and co-chairman of the program, Jeshua Erickson, asked participants to divide into three groups: One for mothers with children still at home, a second for fathers with children still at home, and a third for everyone else.

From those three large groups, Anderson and Erickson asked additional random questions to help people figure out their interests and similarities.

Some groups had already been formed before the kickoff, and others who did not have a group beforehand were able to get one.

Each participant was given a free AARP pedometer, sponsored by United Health Foundation, that steps will be tracked on, and Erickson explained the parameters of the program.

Participants will keep track of their steps each time they walk with at least one other team member, along with their total steps throughout the day.

Then, at the end of 10 weeks, three prizes of equal importance will be awarded: First is a moai prize, which is for the team that has the most walks with the entire group present; second is a steps prize for the team that has accumulated the most group steps; third is a prize for the team with the most volunteer hours.

Erickson said the winning teams who receive first in those categories will receive a dinner with Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner in Albert Lea, will be featured on the AARP Web site and in the Tribune. They will also receive Nordic walking poles sponsored by Leki, along with free Nordic walking lessons from Catherine Buboltz.

Three, three-month YMCA memberships will also be raffled off among the winners.

After the introduction, groups dispersed for their first official walk together.

For more information about joining a moai, people can contact walking moai leaders Catherine Buboltz at 377-0835, Erickson at 373-1289 or Nancy VanderWaerdt at 377-0227.