AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project accelerates

Published 1:30 pm Saturday, January 9, 2010

All of us this past year had the grand opportunity to participate in the world’s first intentional Blue Zones re-make of a city. Dan Buettner and his gang, along with United Health Foundation and AARP, invested nine months and several hundred thousand dollars helping Albert Lea and the surrounding area “live better, longer.”

The results were stunning.

Twenty-three hundred Freeborn County citizens took part in the research project, which resulted in 3.1 years of life added on average for each participant. Walking and biking trails were expanded. Sidewalks were extended. Hundreds of kids walked to school in walking school buses safely guided by volunteers. Six hundred adults joined walking groups. Two-thirds of Albert Lea’s restaurants modified or added new, healthier items to their menus. Dozens of Albert Leans took cooking classes. Refrigerators and countertops were rearranged for healthier eating. Attitudes were changed. Lives were renewed. Friendships started. Television stations from around the country couldn’t wait to find out what was going on here. “Good Morning America” broadcast from Albert Lea not twice, but thrice this past year.

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It’s exactly what Mr. Buettner hoped for. After studying the world’s longest living people from around the globe, he and his team came to share with anyone who would listen new, simpler strategies for living younger and more vibrant lives.

Blue Zone experts helped us put in to practice:

 Developing habits of moving one’s body naturally.

 Systematic under-eating (stopping when 80 percent full).

 Consuming a preponderance of plant and whole foods.

 Drinking moderate amounts of red wine regularly.

 Knowing our life purpose.

 Taking time to relax and rest.

 Developing active social contacts and a sense of belonging.

 Having strong relationships with loved ones.

 Hanging around people with healthy values and practices.

The best news is yet to come.

Knowing that 70 percent of our longevity is determined by lifestyle choices, citizens continue to come out of the woodwork to learn what makes the difference between a mediocre life and one with superb health and zest.

One look in the Community Education pamphlet this winter gives awareness that the cooking classes continue. A building on Broadway Avenue in downtown Albert Lea is being renovated to be the home of education and encouragement for years to come for both our residents and those visiting from around the world.

A compelling workshop, “Your Life Purpose: Living a Life of Meaning,” is coming as soon as Feb. 13 (sign up now through Community Education, 379-4834.)

In the coming year, we’ve been challenged by Blue Zones — and we are accepting the challenge! — to start new moais (friendship groups), increase restaurant participation in Blue Zone objectives, develop more community gardens, double the number of children participating in walking school buses and support employers more fully to guide employees to healthier lifestyles.

If you haven’t climbed on board yet, now is the time to change your life! If you have participated in the past, we encourage you to find new ways to stay involved for the benefit of you, your family and your community. Make it part of your New Year’s commitment to declare 2010 the first year of the rest of your life!

You are in control. The Vitality Team is here to help you.

Let the year begin!

David Larson is part of the Albert Lea Vitality Team. He is a life fulfillment coach who works with people who want to live exceptional lives. He can be reached at (507) 373-7913 or at his Web site,