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June 20, 2014 10:15 PM

Iowa Town Living In Blue Zone

Sioux Falls, SD

People in Spencer, Iowa are living in a Blue Zone and it's more than a year in the making. The Blue Zones Project is transforming lives for the better. 

This Northwest Iowa town of a little more than 11,000 people is testing ground for a project that could take hold in every community in the United States.  People in Spencer are living in the Blue Zone. 

"The ultimate goal is to change the whole community into a more health conscious community--where it's more walkable, keeps people outside more, get outside more, eat more healthy, live longer lives and just have general overall better quality of life," Fagan said.

Bob Fagan is City Manager and helped organize the Blue Zones Project in Spencer. In the last year and a half, Fagan lost 50 pounds and turned his health around in the process.  He says the results of the Blue Zones Project in Spencer are tangible in other ways, too.

"I've also seen it in our business because we're a worksite for the city as well and we've seen our health care costs go down--we've had a very minimal increase in our actual premium, but as far as the cost the insurance companies sent out it was down 10 to 15 percent; so it's making a difference," Fagan said.

The Blue Zones Project is a grassroots effort started by writer Dan Buettner who spent more than a decade studying why in some parts of the world people are healthier and live longer--he coined them Blue Zones. There are nine principals to live by and this Iowa community has embraced them all. 

"There was one particular power principal I thought I could do and that was eating until you're 80 percent full and stopping before you are completely full. I need to lose some weight--I'm going to try this to see if it works," Muller said.

35 pounds lighter, it did work for Deb Muller. She also regularly walks with coworkers. In order for Blue Zones to become a reality, it takes employer support and Farmer's Trust & Savings bank was behind it 100 percent. 

"They were a major driving force. It was nice to be reminded every day when you came to work that Blue Zones was part of our life here at the bank," Muller said.

Besides walking, the bank encouraged healthier snacks and teams made a healthy lunch for all employees once a month.  They also installed new bike racks to encourage people to bike to work. 

"They're just common principles that most people should be doing anyway. It's just being reminded of doing something positive for your life," Muller said.

Iowa's goal with the Blue Zones Project is to become the healthiest state in the nation; and it's already risen on that list from 16th to 10th. 

"It seems like people are very excited for the healthy options," Elice Brunnette, Manager of the Bear Coffee House & Wine Bar said.

The Bear restaurant worked with the project before it even opened to be a designated Blue Zones site.

"We have several vegetarian options and we try to do things locally, if possible.  We have a farmer's market out front and pull produce in from there when we can and we also have other menu items that fall under Blue Zones health qualifications," Brunnette said.

The restaurant has seen its business grow in fact, the whole town is boasting about how well the Blue Zones Project has succeeded here; and that's getting national attention.  Spencer was featured in last month's Oprah Magazine in an article called "The Iowa Test," to make the whole country healthier. 

"It's exciting because I've lived here all my life and having Spencer recognized as a Blue Zone community now, it's wonderful," Muller said.

The City allocated $200,000 for new sidewalks and people do seem active, healthy and happy here. The next challenge is to keep living in the Blue Zone long term.

"We'll keep this thing going forever, hopefully," Fagan said.

Anyone can live in the Blue Zone by following the Power of 9; 9 traits of people who live the longest in the world.

Blue Zones Project.

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