written by Lori Tobias
Choosing to live a healthy life can be difficult, but four communities in Oregon are working hard to change that. Each community—Klamath Falls, The Dalles, Umpqua Valley and Grants Pass—is a certified Blue Zones Project, where making the healthy choice the easy choice is transforming lives. The Blue Zones Project grew out of research by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified ve regions of the world with the highest concentration of people living to be 100 years or older. He discovered that each of the areas he dubbed Blue Zones shared nine commonalities—the “Power 9.”
“Basically, they are considered to be keys to longevity,” said Jessica Hand, community program manager for the Umpqua Valley project. “ They are small easy steps anyone can take to live longer and happier.” In general, the Power 9 relate to being active, eating a healthy diet, maintaining the right outlook, spending time with family and friends, knowing one’s purpose and being part of a faith-based community. Once a community is certified—a fairly involved process in which applicants are measured by need and readiness—the community identifies areas of focus, such as schools, as worksites, then sets goals for improving life in each. Klamath Falls was the first Oregon Blue Zones Project, winning the bid to be the pilot program in 2015. “We really wanted to focus on community pride, family stability, and school graduation and attendance rates,” said Jessie Dubose, community program manager. “Our goal for schools is to create an environment that promotes the health and wellbeing of students and staff so they are engaged and empowered to achieve learning outcomes.”
Blue Zones communities host workshops and classes, followed by moias, the Okinawan term that describes a small social network. “Okinawans put together moias so that neighbors look after neighbors,” said Dianne Hoover, community program manager for Grants Pass. “One of the tenets of Blue Zones is that your health habits are as contagious as a cold, and we know that if you have three friends who smoke or are obese or have unhealthy habits, then you’re something like 150 percent more likely to engage in those unhealthy behaviors yourself.” Participants in moias agree to meet for ten weeks for thirty minutes a week. Moias might be centered on healthy meal potlucks, walking groups or purpose—in which participants essentially explore their reason for getting out of bed each morning, Hoover said.
As Klamath Falls enters its third year, evidence of its success is showing, said Sarah Foster, executive director of Oregon Healthiest State, which partners with Cambia Health Foundation in administering the projects. “ The number of people who are proud of their community has increased,” Foster said. “Smoking rates have decreased 2.2 percent, and the number of people who exercise frequently is up 2.6 percentage points. The community has also made positive gains in awareness of the project and engagement. Seventy-five percent of the community is aware of the project and 34 percent is engaged. It’s really exciting.”