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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Get Healthy in the Blue Zone

Jan 01, 2016 09:06AM ● By Savannah Noir

In 2014, NCH Healthcare System led the launch of a Blue Zones Project in Southwest Florida. The 10-year strategic plan to promote healthier lifestyles and empower individuals to make better decisions is now moving ahead with the assistance of hundreds of volunteers under the direction of Deb Millsap, executive director. More than 12 years of public health service and 17 years of working in hospital-based wellness programs prepared Millsap for directing the movement to transform Collier county communities into healthier, happier places to live, work and play.

Blue Zone Projects are based on the “Power 9”. The specifics of these nine longevity lifestyle characteristics—move naturally 30 minutes five times a week, eat more plants, less meats and processed foods, drink red wine in moderation (one glass per day), have a sense of purpose, take time to relieve stress, participate in a spiritual community, make family a priority, and be surrounded with those who share Blue Zone values—are fully detailed in Dan Buetnner’s Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.

The author of the New York Times bestseller discovered them in 2004 when he teamed up with National Geographic and the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people had reached the age of 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the U.S. in general. In Sardinia, Okinawa, America (Loma Linda, California), Greece and Costa Rica, Buettner gathered valuable information on the lifestyles of these individuals .

While scientific studies suggest that only approximately 25 percent of how long we live is dictated by genes, according to other research, such as that done by Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief, the other 75 percent is determined by lifestyle and the everyday choices we make. Establishing a “personal Blue Zone” is a good first step on the path to longevity and good health.

In 2009 Blue Zones partnered with AARP and the United Health Foundation to apply the Power 9 principles to the town of Albert Lea, Minnesota. Participants there added an estimated 2.9 years to their average lifespan while healthcare claims for city workers dropped 49 percent. Blue Zones are now being created in cities and businesses across the country.

In January 2015, the Collier County school board approved a local initiative that includes the potential for redesigning cafeterias to highlight healthier foods and limiting access to vending machines. “Small changes and healthier choices, whether made individually or in workplaces, restaurants, grocery stores, schools, homeowners associations and faith-based groups within the county’s seven zip codes—34101, 34102, 34103, 34105, 34108, 34109 and 34110—can raise the well-being for the total population,” says Millsap, who enthuses about the financial rewards for companies that adopt the Blue Zone Power 9.

“Studies show that workers become more productive and heath care costs decrease. It’s not a quick fix to re-engineer health and vitality back into our lifestyles, but doing so sure holds a lot of promise,” notes Millsap.

To learn more about the project, visit SouthwestFlorida.BlueZonesProject.com.

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