Blue Zones, then and now!

Posted 7/28/21

By Nicole DePalma MS, LMT The term “Blue Zone” first popped up in 2005, when Dan Buettner ran a cover story on National Geographic magazine titled, “Secrets of a Long Life”. Mr. Buettner …

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Blue Zones, then and now!


By Nicole DePalma MS, LMT

The term “Blue Zone” first popped up in 2005, when Dan Buettner ran a cover story on National Geographic magazine titled, “Secrets of a Long Life”. Mr. Buettner identified regions of the world where people lived longer than average. Not only did these populations live longer, but there were also more people in these “zones” living longer with purpose, good social connections, good health, and good minds.

“Blue Zones Projects” are now found all over the world. The idea is to work with cities to have healthy choices be easier to make. This is done by making changes to a city’s “human-made” surroundings. There are 51 Blue Zone communities in North America, and these communities have experienced a double-digit drop in obesity and tobacco use, saving millions of dollars in health care costs over the past 12 years. Over three million people have been helped by the changes Blue Zones have implemented with the help and buy-in from local governments, health care facilities, building engineers, and city planners.

Dan Buettner and his cohorts discovered that generally, people spend close to 90% of their time in areas very close to their homes. He coined the term “Life Radius” to describe this attribute of home and neighborhood. That being the case, the question then became, why not have healthy lifestyle choices be the easiest choices to make within these “Life Radius zones”? For example, can fruits and vegetables be more accessible and affordable than snacks and fast foods? Or are there local ordinances that incentivize clean, healthy, safe, livable spaces? Are neighborhoods encouraged to have buyin to take care of property, and of course, each other?

Furthermore, are habits like smoking widely permitted, or difficult to do? Are homes, buildings, streets, and open spaces designed to encourage movement like walking instead of taking a car, taking the stairs when possible instead of an elevator, being able to ride a bike on a street because it is wide enough to support cycling and cars safely? These questions are what Blue Zone Projects work with communities to answer, and create action plans that move people toward making those easy, healthy choices.

Now, jumping forward 16 years, Lifetime Fitness has put a new spin on Blue Zone Projects. I learned about what Lifetime is doing from some very well-informed friends as we chatted about what’s happening in health and wellness. These ladies told me about what Lifetime is creating at their Southdale property in Eagan. This project is taking Blue Zone Projects to a new level of a complete wellness village if you will. I’m not “shilling” for Lifetime Fitness, but I think that they may be on the wave of a trend whereby a community is based around being the healthiest it can be. Presently, Lifetime has a community development in Coral Gables, Florida, Green Valley, Nevada, and there’s one under construction in Dallas Midtown, Texas.

These Lifetime Living communities give their residents access to one or two bedroom apartments, community gathering areas, and business gathering areas, onsite cafes, use of spas and health clubs anywhere Lifetime is located, and connection to the latest in technology. But there’s more: dog parks, bike storage, safe parking, and on-site security. Just like the Blue Zone Projects, the Lifetime Living communities are built on the principle of making healthier lifestyle choices because the community that their residents live in have easy access to these good choices, and the community as a whole believes in living that healthier lifestyle.

These healthy-based community concepts are quite a prospect, and given the success and the wide-reaching effects of Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for projects such of these. But if we think of the possibilities of what communities could set out to do to become more healthy, I feel excited for what the results and research will show of the successes (or failures!) of new “zones” as they come “on line”. Cheers and be well!