Blue Zones Project Seeks Happier, Healthier Population
At the January 13 meeting, Suzanne Duda, Blue Zones® project vice president, outlined the goals of Fort Worth's Healthiest City Initiative, a five-year effort to change residents' attitudes to that they make healthier choices. When an entire society participates, small changes contribute to huge benefits: lowered healthcare costs, improved productivity, and ultimately, a higher quality of life. Fort Worth is the first metropolitan area to attempt to achieve a Blue Zones designation.
Duda described the Blue Zones movement that began with a National Geographic story on longevity and healthy living that identified nine principles, the Power Nine, that can lead to better, happier, healthier lives. The magazine article was the second highest selling issue ever published and resulted in a New York Times bestseller.
“What the study revealed is that even minor changes in lifestyle can reap big rewards,” Duda said. “In the cities where residents live the longest, the people move naturally. They walk, bike, and run as part of their daily activities,” she said. “A six-lane arterial does not create a safe, healthy pedestrian environment. More than 500 children in Fort Worth are driven to school because they don’t have a safe route to walk to their neighborhood school.”
One of Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price’s goals is to make streets more accessible to all users. The concept of complete streets encourages interaction between young and old, children and adults, by encouraging circulation and multiple forms of transportation. A complete streets proposal will go before the Fort Worth City Council in April.
What residents eat also contributes to their wellbeing. “In Japan, before a family begins eating, the diners remind each other to stop eating before they are full. Eating more slowly improves digestion and allows the body to catch up with intake,” Duda said. “Sharing food with others regularly is another way to make your life better. In a city where 50 percent of the children in the school district are obese, this simple change can make a difference.” Eating with others regularly is also an important component of a healthy lifestyle.
Some neighborhoods in Fort Worth lack access to fruit and vegetables, she added, a key ingredient in improving overall health. People who eat more plant-based diets have fewer health problems. In March, Fort Worth City Council will consider a new food policy to promote better nutrition. Blue Zones will piggy back on efforts by other public agencies to establish a regular source of affordable fruits and vegetables in deprived areas.
“Signing voluntary Blue Zones pledges to introduce small changes makes it more likely those changes will be made,” Duda said. “Fort Worth Blue Zones has a goal of 111,000 signed pledges. We encourage everyone to consider taking the Blue Zones Project pledge.” Pledges were distributed to members and guests at the meeting. Duda also said a special “light” pledge has been developed for associations and faith-based organizations to encourage participation.
Mayor Price is sponsoring a series of Purpose Workshops to help residents explore their passions and reasons for living. The two-hour workshops ask participants to dig deep to find meaning in their lives. “People with purpose live longer, healthier lives,” Duda said.