Fairfield’s Blue Zones team creating ‘vibrant community’
Many factors contribute to an individual’s overall health, according to Fairfield’s Blue Zones initiative organizer Ken Daley, and thanks to the community’s Blue Zone designation from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Fairfield is ready to address its many facets.
“We are trying to create a vibrant community that is healthy and long-lived,” said Daley. “That is a very complex undertaking; it’s not just about exercise or nutrition, it is much, much larger than that.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield announced Fairfield as one of its nine small-town demonstration sites in October. Since then, Daley and the Blue Zones committee have found a committed group of individuals representing local businesses, policy, schools, restaurants and grocers to help plan how to create a healthier community. This group will travel to Des Moines the weekend of Jan. 23-24 for a training session at the Blue Zones Institute.
“The training will be an opportunity for Blue Zone communities to get all of the background information to help transform their cities,” said Daley.
Once the team completes the training, and has created a “blueprint” of the town’s plan, entities from all sectors of the community will be invited to apply to become Blue Zones certified sites.
Daley, who is chairman of exercise and sport science at Maharishi University of Management, has long had a passion for health and fitness. While he’s been involved in community health projects for years, he said the Blue Zones Project has the most potential to affect change of any of his undertakings.
In Iowa, the project is a public-private partnership between Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Healthiest State Initiative launched by Gov. Terry Branstad, which aims to raise Iowa to No. 1 in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index within five years.
Years before the governor’s initiative, Daley was making health goals for Jefferson County based upon the book from which the term “blue zones” originated: National Geographic writer Dan Buettner’s, “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.”
Daley’s initiative, the Let’sGoJeffCo wellness coalition, created an action plan for the county similar to the Blue Zones requirements.
“Fairfield was involved in conceptualizing and working on Blue Zone idea before anyone else in Iowa was actively pursuing this,” he said. “I think it is a very interesting model for positively changing human behavior.”
Daley said the infrastructure of Blue Cross Blue Shield and the outreach of the governor is helping the message reach a wider audience.
“It has created likely the greatest mindshare around health and physical activity of anything I’ve seen come out of Iowa,” he said. “It has captured the imagination of the population.”
Since October, the committee led by Daley has been approaching community members to join a leadership team for initiatives in Fairfield’s education, businesses, policy making, restaurants and grocery stores.
Daley said both the committee and leadership team will attend the Des Moines training in January.
The seven areas are community policy, school policy, employers, restaurants and grocery stores, community engagement, along with Walking School Bus and Walking Moai teams.
Walking Moai is a support group to encourage regular exercise, and Walking School Bus encourages groups of students to walk to school under the supervision of a responsible adult.
Former Revelations Café manager Julie Stephens joined the community engagement team after Mayor Ed Malloy contacted her in October.
Stephens signed on to help with life purpose workshops, and cooking and gardening classes, which Blue Cross and Blue Shield laid out as community engagement activities. Stephens had read an article about Blue Zones before, and the health secrets of centenarians. She remembered life purpose as central to longevity.
“Life purpose is really important for living longer,” she said. “The workshop will focus on self introspection about what makes people get up in the morning.”
“The cooking classes will teach how to cook using fresh vegetables and fruits, and the gardening class with teach how to grow your own produce and grains,” she said.
Daley said it has been easy to find leadership team members who, like Stephens, understand the importance of the project.
“It is just completely frictionless,” said Daley. “The community is absolutely ready for this.”