(Photo above: Dan Burden can help communities become Blue Zones by improving walkability for residents | courtesy of Commute Options)
Have you ever heard the story about Okinawa, Japan and how its residents tend to live much longer than the rest of the world? The same goes for Sardinia, Italy and a handful of other communities in the world that share a unique claim to fame—residents reach the age of 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States. Researchers have name for these long living communities—“Blue Zones.”
Researchers identified nine common denominators of these communities that have exceptionally long living residents. The number one, most common attribute that Blue Zones have in common is that their residents “move naturally.” According to researchers, “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.”
Creating a built environment that not only allows, but actively invites people to “move naturally” by walking and riding bikes has a direct, tangible, positive impact on the people that live there. Not to mention the added benefits of fewer cars on the road, cleaner air and financial savings.
What if you knew that you could add 12 healthy and happy years to your life by living in a Blue Zone? What can we do in Central Oregon to become a Blue Zone? We can optimize our communities by looking at policies, regulations and the physical environment for ways to encourage natural movement. Creating “complete streets” that include sidewalks, bike lanes, public spaces and traffic calming tactics can increase real and perceived safety and invite more people to move naturally throughout their day—without really thinking about it.
Blue Zones Project Oregon launched this year to help communities, businesses and organizations develop strategies and programs to make “the healthy choice the easiest choice.” They work with worksites, schools, restaurants, grocery stores, faith-based organizations and community leaders to make small but sustainable improvements to increase wellness.
Two of the activities listed on their website include walking school buses where students walk to school together in groups, adding students along the way, and Moai (pronounced “Mo Eye”) Walking Groups. Moai Walking Groups are groups of five to eight people that meet at least once a week to walk throughout the community, providing social interaction and healthy exercise.
Aaron Patnode is the Executive Director for Blue Zones Project Oregon. “Blue Zones Project Oregon is here to help communities and organizations develop strategies to make ‘the healthy choice the easy choice.’ We work throughout Oregon to identify the very small to the very large changes that can be made to promote wellness. It might be encouraging employees to take the stairs rather than the elevator, or helping communities develop strategies for complete streets to get people moving throughout their day. Through small changes, we can accomplish a lot.”
Is your workplace or organization interested in becoming a Blue Zone? Learn more about Blue Zone Project Oregon at www.oregon.bluezonesproject.com.
Commute Options promotes choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. For more information, contact Executive Director, Jeff Monson at 541-330-2647 or visit www.commuteoptions.org
Katy Bryce is a freelance writer in Bend. www.katybryce.com