I am really excited to have Margaret Adamek, PhD, Food Policy Expert at Blue Zones Project, on my Plant Chat today. Margaret’s longstanding experience with food systems change—from production to consumption—is a perfect fit for her work with Blue Zones Project.
Blue Zones Project is a community-led well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through permanent changes to a city’s environment, policy, and social networks.
Established in 2010, Blue Zones Project is inspired by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified five regions of the world—or Blue Zones—with the highest concentration of people living to 100 years or older. Blue Zones Project incorporates Buettner’s findings and works with cities to implement policies and programs that will move a community toward optimal health and well-being. Currently, 32 communities in nine states have joined the Blue Zones Project, impacting more than 2 million Americans. For more information, visit www.bluezonesproject.com.
What are Blue Zones Project Power 9 principles, and how can they help people as they face trying to create positive, sustainable health goals?
Blue Zones Project is a nationwide well-being improvement initiative that helps communities shape their environments to make healthy choices easier. Efforts are based on lifestyles of people who live in Blue Zones® areas—pockets of the world with lower rates of chronic diseases, longer life spans, and increased quality of life.
Blue Zones Project’s Power 9 principles serve as the initiative’s foundation for enhanced well-being. The Power 9 are easy, small steps that everyone can take to live longer, feel better, and be happier. These simple behaviors are shared by the world’s longest living people.
Blue Zones Project’s Power 9 include:
- Move Naturally – The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons, or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it.
- Purpose – Having a sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
- Down Shift – Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. Even people in Blue Zones areas experience stress, but they have daily routines to shed that stress. Reverse disease by creating a stress-relieving strategy that works for you.
- 80% Rule – Eat mindfully and stop when 80 percent full. The 20 percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing or gaining weight. People in Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then don’t eat any more the rest of the day.
- Plant Slant – Adding more fruits and veggies to your plate can add years to your life. Beans, including fava, black, soy, and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets.
- Wine @ 5 – If you have a healthy relationship with alcohol, enjoying a glass of wine with good friends each day is part of a Blue Zones lifestyle.
- Belong – Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add four to 14 years of life expectancy.
- Loved Ones First – Successful centenarians in Blue Zones areas put their families first.
- Right Tribe – The world’s longest lived people also choose—or are born into—social circles that support healthy behaviors. Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. The social networks of long-lived people favorably shape their health behaviors.
The Power 9 Principles originated in 2004, when Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people lived measurably better lives. They identified five regions—Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; and Ikaria, Greece—as Blue Zones areas. They found that the residents in all Blue Zones areas shared nine specific lifestyle characteristics. Blue Zones Project refers to them collectively as the Power 9 principles. Dan’s research indicates that the average person’s life expectancy could increase 10 to 12 years by adopting a Blue Zones lifestyle.
Can you give us a bit of background on how Blue Zones Project got started?
Blue Zones Project is inspired by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified five regions of the world—or Blue Zones—with the highest concentration of people living to 100 years or older. They include Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; and Okinawa, Japan. Blue Zones Project incorporates Buettner’s findings and works with cities to implement policies and programs that will move a community toward optimal health and well-being.
The initiative began in 2009, when Buettner and his company, Blue Zones, LLC, teamed up with Healthways®, Inc. to bring best practices from the world’s Blue Zones areas to local communities interested in improving the well-being of residents. The first test city, Albert Lea, Minnesota, reported marked improvements in well-being, including a 49 percent drop in healthcare claims for city workers and a 21 percent reduction in absenteeism for key employers.
Today, Blue Zones Project partners with communities throughout the United States to develop public-private partnerships and create sustainable changes to environment, policy, and social networks. Currently, 32 communities in nine states have joined Blue Zones Project, impacting more than 2 million Americans. The movement includes three beach cities in California; 15 cities in Iowa; Albert Lea, Minnesota; the city of Fort Worth; and communities in Southwest Florida, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Wisconsin. As the Blue Zones Project movement gains momentum, it seeks new communities with leaders committed to well-being transformation.
When applying to become part of Blue Zones Project, community leaders and residents identify local strengths and opportunities, and outline community efforts that might support the initiative. Once a city is selected, local team members are hired to work within the community to develop and adopt a Blueprint, or a detailed implementation plan with goals, strategies, and metrics to guide implementation of Blue Zones Project over the coming years.
Blue Zones Project then delivers best practices and strategy for making healthy choices easier through sustainable change in worksites, schools, restaurants, and grocery stores and community policy. Blue Zones Project also encourages people living within these communities to make small, simple changes to their daily routines, nudging them to make healthier choices where they live, work, pray, and play. Dan identified these best practices as the Power 9® principles—nine habits of the world’s longest living people. From moving naturally to waking up each day with purpose, the Power 9 are proven to support well-being and longevity.
Once a city meets its predetermined goals, it is certified as a Blue Zones Community®. Well-being improvement is measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index® and community-reported metrics.
What has Blue Zones Project accomplished?
Blue Zones Project partners with communities throughout the United States to develop public-private partnerships and create sustainable changes to environment, policy, and social networks. People spend 90 percent of their time near their home or work, so by creating an environment that makes the healthy choice the easy choice, we can have significant impact on the well-being of people who live in that area.
Currently, 32 communities in nine states have joined Blue Zones Project, improving the lives of more than 2 million Americans. The movement already includes three beach cities in California; 15 cities in Iowa; Albert Lea, Minnesota; the city of Fort Worth; and communities in Southwest Florida, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Each participating community has taken great strides toward creating an environment that makes healthy choices easier—from making subtle changes in grocery store layout and offering healthier sides at restaurants to widening sidewalks and adding bike corrals to public locations.
You can learn all about urban gardening here.
Now that Blue Zones concept has been around for a while, are you gathering data that indicates how effective these strategies are?
Yes. Well-being improvement is measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index® as well as community-reported metrics. Consider outcomes in California’s Beach Cities (Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Manhattan Beach, which achieved certification as an official Blue Zones Community in 2016). Since implementing Blue Zones Project in 2010, the Well-Being Index has shown:
- The number of overweight citizens dropped nine points to 50.8 percent, while the national rate rose four points to 63.7 percent in 2015. The number of obese residents came in at less than half the national average, at 12.1 percent compared with 28.1 percent nationally.
- Smoking declined more than 17 percent, bringing the percentage of smokers in the Beach Cities to 8.9 percent, compared with 18.8 percent nationally.
- Daily significant stress dropped by nearly 10 percent.
Albert Lea, Minnesota, the original pilot community for the project, has risen 26 percent in Minnesota’s county health rankings and strengthened its economy through Blue Zones Project. Since implementing a second phase of Blue Zones Project efforts in 2015, Albert Lea has made gains in critical areas of well-being, outpacing the state and nation. According to the Well-Being Index, between 2014 and 2016 in Albert Lea:
- Overall well-being is up 2.8 points, and is outpacing improvement across the state of Minnesota during the same time.
- Smoking dropped considerably and now is less than 15 percent, far below the national average of 18.5 percent in 2015.
- Percentage of residents who consume recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables rose to 62 percent, also well above the national average of 57.5 percent in 2015.
- Community pride increased significantly, up seven points to 68.7 percent.
How can people get involved, by participating or volunteering, in Blue Zones in their own communities?
As the Blue Zones Project movement gains momentum, the initiative seeks new communities with leaders committed to well-being transformation. If you’re interested in bringing Blue Zones Project to your community, you can contact bluezonesprojectUSA@healthways.com for more information. For communities where Blue Zones Project is already in place, visit your local initiative’s website to find participating grocery stores, restaurants, and other organizations as well as event calendars. Links are available at https://communities.bluezonesproject.com/.
Even if your community isn’t yet part of the Blue Zones Project movement, adopting one or more of the Power 9 principles can have a big impact on health and well-being. There are a number of Personal Pledge actions you can take right in your own home (for example, keeping fresh fruits on hand for snacks, using smaller dinner plates, and removing TV and other electronics from the bedroom).
Margaret shared one of Blue Zones’ favorite recipes with us. Enjoy!
Yields 6 small burgers
Veggie and bean burgers are in every grocery store freezer section, but they often have unnecessary preservatives and additives. Make your own meatless burger with a Blue Zones serving size of beans in every bite.
1 hrPrep Time
1 hrTotal Time
- 1 small zucchini, chopped
- 2 cups cooked white beans (or one 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed)
- 2 tablespoons diced onion
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp salt (or to taste)
- ¼ cup flaxseed meal
- ¼ cup gluten-free oat flour
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Add the zucchini and white beans to a food processor and mix for 1 to 2 minutes, until they break down into a coarse texture. You may have to scrape down the sides a few times.
- Add the diced onion, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and salt and mix for another minute. Next, add the flaxseed meal and the oat flour and mix until everything is incorporated, about 1 minute.
- Using your hands, form the mixture into small patties and place them on the baking sheet.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let the burgers cool before removing from the baking sheet, about 20 minutes.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate for later. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge. These should last a couple weeks in the fridge. You can also freeze them for up to 6 months.
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