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A Look Inside the United States’ First-ever Certified “Blue Zone” Located in Minnesota

 Living to 100 may seem like a major feat, but there are communities around the world where it’s common — they’re called “Blue Zones.”

Minnesota native Dan Buettner is one of the foremost experts on how they work. Buettner’s new Netflix documentary and New York Times bestsellers reveal the secret recipe to longevity.

“It’s really what they’re not doing. They’re not doing anything consciously, and there’s where we get it wrong,” Buettner said. “We think we can resolve to get on the right diet, the right exercise program, supplement plan, superfoods, and get healthier. But it never works.”

Buettner said that the “superagers” are often walking outside, having spontaneous conversations with the people they bump into, having a smaller dinner, and eating mostly a whole food, plant-centric diet.

Several years ago, a Minnesota community decided it wanted families to follow his guidance. Albert Lea made headlines in 2016 when it became the first community in the country to be a certified Blue Zones community

“I came to Albert Lea in 2008 with this crazy idea of doing this pilot project to help us live longer and better,” Cathy Malakowsy said.

Neighbors like Mary Jo Volkman hopped on the bandwagon, living the Blue Zone life — with more movement, socializing and healthy eating habits.

“I remember people getting together and walking all the time and going to people’s homes to have meals together,” Volkman said. 

The community added more events, healthier school lunches and community spaces like dog parks — encouraging people to get together and get moving,

The Mayo Clinic in Albert Lea hopped on board as the largest employer in town with similar values.

“Getting people on board was easy. I think our challenge has been keeping it alive over this time. With anything, it’s going to ebb and flow,” Tricia Dahl with the Mayo Clinic said.

Part of the blue zone build-out was constructing a walkway along the highway in Albert Lea so it allows residents to walk to the local Walmart and do their errands if they want. It’s also safer for pedestrians and cuts down on emissions from cars, moving them closer to their climate action goals.

“We’ve added almost 13 new miles of sidewalks and user trails in town,” Malakowsy said.

Employers like Arcadian Bank keep Blue Zones alive with their healthy vending options. They also have break rooms for nursing moms and workout spaces for movement and respite throughout the workday.

“That’s what we’re trying to do is just make healthy habits available to people,” Jessica Tomschin said.

According to the results of a self-reported survey, residents’ overall well-being, sense of community and sense of purpose is up.

“So many people report that they are thriving. Albert Lea has really dropped in the percentages of people with high blood pressure, same with high cholesterol. For some reason we’re lagging with exercise,” Malakowsy said. “Our tobacco use has dropped down.”

Of course, there are headwinds too.

“Food continues to be our big challenge  — access to food on our south side of town,” Malakowsy said.

But community leaders say trying to make life better for everyone brings the “it” factor to Albert Lea.

“We figured out we’re a Blue Zones community, which is all about being a great place to live,” Malakowsy said.

Source: CBS News