The Blue Zones project—a public health transformation locally initiated by NCH Healthcare System—took a big step recently with the hiring of a local executive director who’ll oversee the decade-long effort to improve wellness and longevity.
“I’m absolutely honored to be involved in this project,” says Deb Milsap, a former county health department administrator tapped to lead the project. “I believe it is our best opportunity to affect the health and well-being of our population for generations to come.”
Milsap, a dietician, used to coach individuals on nutrition and fitness goals before moving into public health. She sees the Blue Zones effort as a marriage between individual health decisions and public policy.
The Blue Zones project, for those who missed last fall’s big announcement, is a regional effort to help people lead longer, healthier lives in part by modifying unhealthy temptations—high-calorie menus, pedestrian road hazards, junk food displays—and educating people on the “Power 9,” steps they can take to improve their physical, spiritual and mental health.
The initiative grew out of a National Geographic-funded project in which researcher Dan Buettner sought to identify the longest-living communities in the world. He zeroed in on five—in Italy, Japan, Costa Rica, Greece and the United States. Buettner dubbed these communities “Blue Zones” and began unraveling the secrets to residents’ longevity.
Buettner and his team found nine commonalities ranging from eating habits to social connectedness to faith. You can read his original article here: bluezones.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Nat_Geo_Longevity.pdf
Now, community leaders, business owners, health officials and residents in Collier and south Lee have embarked on an effort to make this region a Blue Zone.
“We are very much in the infancy, but all of this planning is going on behind the scenes,” Milsap says.
Together with Healthways, the Blue Zones consulting firm, local leaders have done a needs assessment, assigned leaders for the six sectors involved in the project (including schools, worksites and restaurants) and are working on a blueprint for the project’s first phase.
“People are very excited,” Milsap says.
For information on the local Blue Zones project and to read the community assessment, visit collier.bluezonesproject.com. You can also read more about the project in the latest issue of Naples Health, found here.
And just what are those Power 9 secrets to a long, healthy life? They are surprisingly simple steps you can take:
Move Naturally: Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Stand, rather than sit, park far away from the front door.
Purpose: Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
Down Shift: Stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is associated with major age-related diseases.
80% Rule: Stop eating when you are 80 percent full.
Plant Slant: Favor plant-based foods over meat.
Wine @ Five: Have a small drink, preferably with a companion, in the evening.
Belong: Attending faith-based services four times per month adds to life expectancy.
Loved Ones First: Centenarians keep aging parents and grandparents nearby, commit to a life partner and invest in their children.
Right Tribe: The world’s longest-living people chose or were born into social circles that support healthy behaviors.
Visit bluezones.com for more information on The Power 9, tips, recipes and other information.