Freeborn County Fair: Have you signed up?

Published 4:28 pm Saturday, August 8, 2009

Several dozen people wearing the official AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project T-shirts flooded the Freeborn County Fair on Friday, spreading the message of a longer, healthier life.

As part of what was deemed Vitality Project day at the fair, 50 representatives from United Health Group, the agency that sponsored the project, walked the fairgrounds starting at noon to look for people to recruit to the project.

The idea was to encourage any and every adult to participate.

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The Vitality Project, which encourages people to make simple changes to achieve a longer, healthier life, was first announced in Albert Lea in January.

City, school and business leaders have met to find out ways to make healthier environments, and individuals have pledged to work on their own lives.

After explaining the basics about the Vitality Project, the United Health Group volunteers referred people to the project’s booth under the grandstand where they could then learn more. There, they could also find out their projected life expectancy, sign the project’s pledge and complete the Vitality Compass.

Five computers were set up where this could be done.

Anyone who completed the Vitality Compass received a free pedometer from AARP and a Hara Hachi Bu bracelet, which reminds people to stop eating when they’re 80 percent full.

Joel Spoonheim, Blue Zones Health Initiatives director, said AARP and Blue Zones will be able to track the people who signed up who live or work in Albert Lea based zip codes. Those numbers will be added to the overall total who are participating in the project, which is the first pilot project of its kind.

Emma Dahl, who helped keep track of the people who’ve signed up during the fair, said there were 21 people to sign up for the project on Tuesday, 65 on Wednesday, 16 on Thursday and 121 on Friday at the booth.

Prior to the fair, there were just under 2,100 people who have pledged and taken the Vitality Compass, Spoonheim said. The goal is still to reach 5,000 people by the end of the month.

He said the project is headed in the right direction, and project leaders couldn’t be happier with how it has been going.

Walking around with the United Health Group representatives on Friday, they were met with mixed reactions, though a majority were positive.

“We’ve had some good conversations,” said one representative, Ann Kirn. “A lot of people have heard about it.”

Kirn said she noticed that as she took the time to find out why people were coming to the fair and what types of things they do, those people would be more receptive.

She explained that the project is not just about exercising and eating healthy — it’s about other things like being with family, eating nuts, taking naps and going to church, too.

Representatives Kim Verros and Juliana Ayaz faced a few challenges in getting people to check out the project, but as long as they could guide people to the grandstand, then there was a high likelihood those people would become a part of the project.

Many people were happy to receive a free pedometer.

Full information about the project can be found at