Walking moais come together

Published 9:30 am Friday, August 28, 2009

More than 200 walking moai participants came together Thursday night in what was a celebration of stronger community, healthier bodies, new friendships and shared interests at the grandstand of the Freeborn County Fairgrounds.

Blue Zones Founder Dan Buettner said the moai initiative has been “perhaps the most successful element” of the entire AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project.

During the past 10 weeks, about 700 people participated in the initiative, creating 60 moais, or fellowship groups. Buettner said he is proud he can be a part of the Albert Lea community and see the success of the moai program and the Vitality Project.

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Since the project began, the average life expectancy for participants has increased by three years, he said, and the average participant has lost five pounds.

He shared experiences of a few people who have been effected by the project, particularly the walking moais.

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. While they share the joys of life together, they also share the hard times, and as a result create strong bonds.

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

Buettner mentioned two men who were in the same moai — one who has lost 37 pounds in 10 weeks, and the second who has raised his life expectancy from a mere 50 years to 70 in just the 10 weeks of the moai program.

“That, ladies and gentlemen, is a dream come true,” Buettner said.

Catherine Buboltz, one of the coordinators for the program, said together participants walked more than 75 million steps, which is the equivalent of almost 37,600 miles.

Winning teams

Most steps

The team with the most steps — Blood, Sweat and Duct Tape — walked about 6 million steps alone, or an equivalent of just over 3,000 miles, Buboltz said.

They walked three times a day.

Most volunteer hours as a group

Nancy Vanderwaerdt, another coordinator for the program, said the moais combined performed more than 2,200 hours of volunteer work, or an equivalent of almost 57 weeks full of volunteering.

The winning volunteer group — Snow White and the Not So Dwarfs — averaged about 40 hours per person in their group over the 10-week span. They spent a lot of their volunteer time with the Freeborn County Relay for Life event.

 Most moai points (which team walked together the most as an entire group)

Coordinator Jeshua Erickson said the Early Risers moai, a group of four people, won the moai prize for walking with the entire group 18 times during the course of the 10 weeks.

Erickson kept track of the points and announced weekly updates in the Blogs section of AlbertLeaTribune.com.

Winning teams will get their picture featured on the AARP Web site, their picture in the Tribune, a dinner with Buettner and free Nordic walking lessons. Three YMCA memberships were also given away.

Buboltz encouraged people to continue getting together with their moais through the winter. She said she is willing to work with new teams or people interested in getting started on a team.

“We want to keep this going,” she said. “It’s creating a wonderful community environment in our city.”

One of the ways moais can continue staying active and involved is through the walking school bus, said Kristin Heinz, the coordinator of this initiative.

She noted she is looking for volunteers to walk children to and from school, especially for Hawthorne and Halverson elementary schools and St. Theodore Catholic School.

The walking school bus initiative started last spring, and she said she hopes it will expand even more this year.

Joel Spoonheim, Blue Zones health initiative director, said children who walk to school weigh less, do better in school and have higher test scores.

He encouraged people to get children involved in the walking school bus initiative.

Also coming up in September will be the Vitality Project potluck. The close of the project will be Oct. 13.