Blue Zones activation in Barry County is underway, and its first big initiative came with the start of the new year.
Based on the Blue Zones’ Power 9 – a collection of healthy living standards originating from the five places the Blue Zones idea was formed – the 'Big Know' is an online video tutorial led by Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner.
The tutorial can be viewed on the Barry County Blue Zones activation website.
The “Big Know” will be one of the first steps of the Barry County Blue Zones activation program.
Allison Troyer Wiswell is the Barry County activate director, which means she heads up the Barry County Blue Zones project in its early goings.
“We work in this model of discover, develop, design and deploy,” Wiswell said. “We’re currently in the discovery phase. The experts are coming in to take tours, to understand what we have in our county currently. They’re here to see what our strengths are and what our areas of improvement are.”
Buettner was a National Geographic researcher who found five different places scattered around the world where people were living longer and healthier lives. Many people were over the age of 100 and remaining in good health. The locations were the Barbagia region of Sardinia; Ikaria, Greece; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Loma Linda, Calif.; and Okinawa, Japan.
“They have a high quality of life even their hundreds,” Wiswell said. “Some may be out doing manual labor well into their hundreds; one guy was still doing heart surgery. However, all the places are very culturally different.”
But through of the cultural differences, Buettner was able to find nine similarities the communities shared, likenesses that he believed led to their longer and healthier lives.
The people in those five areas all tend to do the following nine things:
Move naturally, such as walking to the store, gardening or manual labor.
Have a sense of purpose or something that, when getting up in the morning, gives meaning to life.
Downshift, regularly taking time to relax by spending time with family or reading a book
Follow an 80 percent rule when eating – only eating until 80 percent full and not eating excess.
Have a “plant slant” regarding food. While not are all vegetarians, they tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat.
Drink wine. Buettner found that those who drink a glass or two of wine a day tend to be healthier than, and outlive, those who do not.
Belong. Those who attend faith-based services four times per month add four to 14 years of life expectancy.
Put loved ones first. Those who put their loved ones first tend to be healthier.
Have shared interest or supportive networks.
“A Blue Zone is reengineering an environment in semi-permanent and permanent ways so that the environment supports us to make healthy choices,” Wiswell said. “It’s very different from just following a diet and exercise program to lose 30 pounds. It’s a systems-wide approach.”
All stemming from the original five locations, Blue Zones projects have now spread across 50 communities in 12 states and one community in Canada. With its recent activation, Barry County will become the first community in Michigan to have a Blue Zones initiative.
“We want to be a trailblazer,” Wiswell said. “It puts you on the map.”
“I like that it’s a community initiative in that it isn’t coming from just one entity. It’s something for everyone. You don’t have to qualify to be a part of it.”
Although Blue Zones is fairly recent here, the ideas behind the initiative have been present in the community for more than 10 years.
When the Blue Zones project began in 2008, Wiswell was really interested in what they were doing she said.
She has spent most of her career at Flex Fab and Hastings Fiberglass.
“At work sites, I would teach about the Power 9 and the individual pieces people can attach too,” she said. “At the end of my presentations, I would tell people that they were actually going into communities and doing it. When I said that, I had no idea that Barry County would actually be chosen to be a Blue Zone.”
In 2010, a community health needs assessment was done through Pennock Hospital. Through that, it was found that obesity was having a significant effect in the county. From that study, the B. Healthy Coalition was formed in 2012. Many of the ideas and goals of B. Healthy sounded like the Blue Zones initiative, she said.
She talked to Bonnie Gettys, Barry Community Foundation president/CEO, and got a group of people together to discuss the idea.
The B. Healthy coalition paid to have Tony Buettner, Dan’s brother, visit Barry County and speak about Blue Zones and its impact.
“After that we entered into a community development agreement and formed a planning committee to work with the Blue Zones team to create a three-day site visit plan,” Wiswell said.
The visit included community presentations, focus groups, one-on-one meetings with community leaders and more. The Blue Zones team produced a report in July of 2018 that said that Barry County shows great leadership, works together well, and aligns with the Blue Zones mission.
The local project went full steam ahead. Wiswell spent the next year fundraising for the project. The $1.4 million raised was enough for Barry County to enter the activation portion of the process.
“Activate is a three-year initiative toward getting the community into a full Blue Zones project,” she said.
A full project would have four full-time staff members. For the time being, Wiswell is the only full-time staff member. But money raised for the activate portion will go directly toward the full project.
“This is a community initiative; Blue Zones is not coming in and doing something to us,” she said. “We have to decide what we want to do. But people need to be thinking of ‘we’ not ‘me.’”
“We’re going to continue to fundraise and look for additional sponsors,” she said. “My primary focus is getting the foundation set for the project. I’m working hard to develop a network of people who will go to local government meetings each month to give updates on the Blue Zones project in Barry County.”