Is your neighborhood designed to make people healthy or sick? With the right characteristics, the place where you live could add years to your life.
Children in Redondo Beach, California -- a Blue Zone community -- take part in morning exercises. LA Times
In 2004, Dan Buettner, CEO of the Blue Zones Project, partnered with researchers from National Geographic to study the places around the world that enjoy the greatest longevity. They found that what distinguishes places like Ikaria, Greece, and Okinawa, Japan, are environments and cultural attributes that foster community, family life, connectedness, and physical activity.
The team boiled down their research to nine principles for longevity and health. The number one principle? “Move Naturally.”
“The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms,” the researchers wrote. “Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it.”
Now the Blue Zones Project — run by Healthways, a company focused on improving health, in partnership with AARP, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute — is trying to create cities and towns that promote wellness across the U.S.
More than a dozen places, from the Los Angeles suburbs to small-town Iowa, have been designated as “Blue Zone” communities. The partnership is helping these places advance complete streets, walking school buses, and safe routes to school. The program also focuses on goals like gardening, volunteering, smoking cessation, and providing access to fresh food.
“Seventy percent of our health outcomes are predicted by our behaviors and our environment,” said Laura Jackson of Wellmark, which insures 2 million people in Iowa and South Dakota, during a seminar at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference taking place this week in Kansas City. “We searched around the world to try to find the magic bullet.”