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Residents testify about success of Blue Zones Project

The Blue Zones Project has been a massive success in Albert Lea since being implemented in 2009, according to a Blue Zones Project community report released at the Albert Lea City Council work session Thursday night.

“The Blue Zones project initiative allowed our community to look at ourselves in a different light and build a better future from learning from our past,” said Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. in the report.

Vern Rasmussen

Vern Rasmussen

The purpose of the initiative is to improve the well-being of communities by optimizing physical surroundings, policy and social connections.

“It’s been successful,” said Ellen Kehr, organization lead for the Blue Zones Project. “This program isn’t about just reaching goals; it’s about reaching out and going further.”

Kehr emphasized the city isn’t stopping the Blue Zones process, and a well-being index will be completed by next summer. Those results will give community leaders a better indication of how the program is going.

She emphasized the effect moais have in Blue Zones. Moais are groups of people that use an activity to bond, whether it’s a walking, biking, potluck or fishing moai.

The report mentions Albert Lea was one of the first cities in the nation to adopt a complete streets policy in 2009. More than six miles of sidewalk additions have been added and more than two miles of bike lanes have been added since the beginning of the program.

The report spoke glowingly of worksite progress in the Albert Lea Blue Zones Project.

Since September 2014, 42 worksites have registered with the Blue Zones Project, according to the report. The report specifically mentioned Riverland Community College’s tobacco-free campus policy, healthy snack stations, walking routes and fitness activities as consistent with the program’s objectives. The report also mentioned other workplaces in Albert Lea that have made a difference.

Albert Lea was the pilot project for the Blue Zones initiative in 2009. The community is currently up for Blue Zones certification and should know certification status within the next year.

The idea for the program was sparked when New York Times best-selling author and Twin Cities native Dan Buettner visited areas around the world where people were living longer, healthier lives. Buettner came up with a list of nine healthy lifestyle habits that help people live longer, healthier and happier lives.

These ideas have been implemented in Blue Zones cities across the country.

Move naturally: The program says it’s important for people to live in places where they can walk to the store, to their friend’s house or places of worship to optimize exercise opportunities.

Knowing your sense of purpose can add up to seven years of extra life expectancy, according to the project.

Finding a stress-relieving strategy that works for you and finding a routine.

The program advocates not over-eating and eating your smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, then not eating anything the rest of the day.

Eat a rich array of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Drink wine. The program advocates women limiting their daily intake to one glass, two glasses for men.

Choose to create social circles that promote healthy behaviors.

Belong to a faith-based community. Attending faith-based services four times a month adds four-14 years of life expectancy, according to the program.

Put your family first. That could include keeping your aging parents and grandparents in or near your home to being in a positive, committed relationship.

Blue Zones projects are also located in Iowa, north central Indiana, Oregon, southwest Florida, Texas and Hawaii.

“The project has been a fabulous addition to our community and to my life,” Albert Lea resident Laura Lunde said in the report.

Paul Schmidt, an Albert Lea resident, agreed.

“This works,” Schmidt said.

In the report, Schmidt said since he and his wife have moved back to Albert Lea, he and his wife have lost more than 75 pounds.

“Between then and now, my wife and I have circled the lake countless times. Between us we are now down more than 75 pounds and feeling better than we have for years,” he said. “We love the Blue Zones lifestyle.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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