FRANKLIN, Tenn., Sept. 29, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- A small Minnesota town undertook an ambitious experiment in 2009. Residents of Albert Lea—a community with high smoking rates and low activity levels—began to pattern their routines and environments after the world's longest living people. As the pilot community for Blue Zones Project®, a well-being improvement initiative created by Minnesota native and National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner, Albert Lea has risen 26 percent in Minnesota's county health rankings and strengthened its economy.
Now, Albert Lea joins the initiative's official ranks as a certified Blue Zones Community®—reflecting citywide, sustainable changes that nudge residents to make healthier choices. Principles are based on lifestyles in what Buettner termed Blue Zones®, or regions where people are most likely to reach age 100. Albert Lea enacted a variety of best practices—including enhancing streets to support walking and biking, adopting policies that drive down tobacco use, and starting simple workplace programs that promote health and social interaction.
Since implementing a second phase of Blue Zones Project efforts last year, Albert Lea has made gains in critical areas of well-being, outpacing the state and nation. According to the Gallup-Healthways 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 Did They Do It?
Blue Zones Project brought in walkability expert Dan Burden—named one of the six most important civic innovators in the world by Time Magazine in 2011—who turned his attention to the infrastructure. Burden helps communities reshape the built environment, or human-made places where people commute, live, work, and play.
With Burden's guidance, Albert Lea established more than 10 miles of bike lanes and new sidewalks. Community partners, such as grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and workplaces, also made changes that support well-being.
"Changing the environment gives people new ways to engage in their community and makes healthy choices easier," said Burden, director of innovation and inspiration at Blue Zones, LLC. "As a result, we helped re-envision Albert Lea's culture and identity."
The environmental transformation led to a foot-traffic influx, revitalizing the city's downtown. Restaurants added outdoor dining areas, and 15 businesses have opened since 2013, with more on the horizon. The changes added $1.2 million worth of property value, and developers have invested more than $1.5 million in building permits since 2013. In 2015, Realtor.com ranked Albert Lea among the top three most affordable small towns where people want to live.
"We've completely enhanced our quality of life," said Chad Adams, city manager. "The impressive outcomes come as a direct result of Blue Zones Project resources and expertise, coupled with local volunteers committed to sustaining our changes."
"The strong partnership of Blue Zones Project and Albert Lea residents has led to dramatic improvements in health and lifestyle," agreed Katrina Worlund, Healthways senior vice president, Blue Zones Project. "This has shaped individual well-being and created social and economic vibrancy far beyond Albert Lea."
Blue Zones Project Movement
Following the successful pilot, Blue Zones Project has grown to impact more than 1.7 million Americans across 27 communities in seven states.
"We have seen the vision of healthier communities in the original Blue Zones areas come to life in Albert Lea. This community has set the stage for a movement that is turning the tide of obesity and chronic disease in communities across the country," said Buettner. "Because of Albert Lea's commitment, we know that sustainable well-being is more than possible—it's the natural course when the environment makes healthy choices easier."
About Blues 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, 27 communities in seven states have joined Blue Zones Project, impacting more than 1.7 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 Hawaii, Southwest Florida, and Oregon. Blue Zones Project is a division of Healthways, a Sharecare company. For more information, visit www.bluezonesproject.com.
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SOURCE Blue Zones Project