Blue Zones: How we could supercharge health and well-being in our valley
We have blessed to have vibrant communities in North Central Washington and yet we have a lot of room for improving health and fostering a stronger sense of connection. We are just barely scratching the surface and I am wholeheartedly in favor of finding ways to enhance our quality of life.
This past week, more than 100 community members got a glimpse of what could be the most powerful approach available to transform our communities from the inside and develop the kind of health and resilience that is possible — becoming a Blue Zones Project valley.
A team from the Blue Zones Project shared some astounding data about the opportunity, including a 10-year potential savings in medical costs of $82 million, about $28 million of direct and indirect benefits to the regional economy, and a total value of nearly $200 million over that time frame.
Those are eye popping numbers, and they are based on actual data and experience in doing this work in 50 communities across the country. The Blue Zones Project, a private organization, helps communities like ours to discover and create their own success rather than follow a fixed formula. The best solutions are invariably home grown.
The Blue Zones Project grew out of a study of five places in the world where people live not only longer but healthier, engaged and fulfilling lives than the rest of the world. From that research, they identified key similarities. People in Blue Zones move naturally (walk, hike, rather than go to gyms), have a sense of purpose in life, eat a diet heavily on plants rather than meat, have a strong sense of belonging (such as to a faith community) and make their families a priority.
I am in favor of using common sense, practical solutions to challenges and that’s why I am drawn to the Blue Zones project. The team, led by Nick Buettner, visited with the support of our two medical providers — Columbia Valley Community Health and Confluence Health. David Olson, CVCH’s CEO, has been the primary driver of this effort.
The philosophy of the Blue Zones project is that communities working together to make it easy to live healthy lives make great progress. Inviting grocery stores to highlight Blue Zones food and restaurants to offer some Blue Zones meals makes it easier to eat healthy. Encouraging individuals to pledge to make one health change in their lives and networking people to support that change is a smart way to encourage health.
Olson, who is a core team member of the Our Valley Our Future project, thinks the Blue Zones Project would help our efforts to build a healthier and stronger community. Our Valley Our Future is built on similar principles as Blue Zones — engaging the community in solving the issues we are facing and building on what’s already working well.
The two biggest factors in health and well-being are individual effort and the physical environment. We have created the environment for people to be unhealthy and we can find ways to change that, if we choose.
The Blue Zones team spent a lot of time meeting with community members, civic leaders and teams of individuals who provided input on the challenges we are facing as a community and the things that are working well here. In a month, they will come back with a proposal for helping us supercharge our community-building efforts.
This is an effort that would be well worth doing so we can create a healthy valley for everyone. I agree with Olson that Blue Zones can be a catalyst for bringing us together to strengthen community health and well-being.
NEXT — A look at the surprising health and well-being data for the Wenatchee Valley by the Gallup organization for the Blue Zones Project