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Spirit Lake secures Blue Zones community designation

Thursday, October 11, 2012

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A community continued to stay involved, and Tuesday their efforts paid off.

Spirit Lake was selected as one of nine smaller communities to be designated as a Blue Zones community.

After over a year's worth of campaigning, raising awareness and implementing the various principles, the countless efforts from residents led to the designation. Local officials were excited to hear the good news.

"I think as hard as the community has rallied behind this, I think it means a ton," said Power 9 Advisory Board member Norm Johnson about the significance of the selection. "I think it shows a couple of things; it shows that we are a community that can really get things done and it really provides an opportunity to bring the community together for a united cause, if you will. I think it just goes to show what this community really represents; I think it brings out the best of what our community has to offer."

The Blue Zones designation ultimately means Spirit Lake will receive assistance from national experts to "develop and implement a blueprint for making permanent environmental, social, and policy changes that transition people into healthier behaviors that can lead to longer, happier lives."

Statewide interest in Blue Zones began over the summer of 2011, when Gov. Terry Branstad challenged all the residents of Iowa to become the healthiest state in the nation. As part of that initiative, Blue Zones refer to regions identified as the healthiest, happiest, longest-living cultures on earth. Lifestyle decisions ranging from diet choices to stress reduction and a sense of belonging are considered keys to longer life expectancy. Health providers behind the Blue Zone effort would like to see Iowans take on habits from the healthier cultures. Ten communities with populations over 10,000 were selected as Blue Zones sites earlier in 2012, and representatives felt it was necessary to create a category for smaller communities as well.

"It has and continues to be a very exciting process for our community," Spirit Lake Blue Zones Task Force member Sonja Hamm said in a statement. "I think I speak on behalf of everyone on the Task Force and Power 9 Advisory team when I say it has been a pleasure to be part of such an all-encompassing collaborative project. Blue Zones representatives appreciate the unique position we are in as a part of the Iowa Great Lakes Area and have indicated there is nothing keeping Spirit Lake from reaching out beyond city limits."

Local leaders have been awaiting word since an Aug. 2 site visit in Spirit Lake. In the meantime, local project leaders encouraged businesses to continue to implement the Blue Zones concepts and called on residents to keep pledging their support.

"Again, as I look at the qualifications they (Blue Zones representatives) were looking for, we were a fit," Johnson said. "We not only had some of those things going on, we were a leader in some of those areas."

The other eight communities that were selected Tuesday were Algona, Audubon, Decorah, Red Oak, Osage, Fairfield, Harlan and Woodbine. They are the first communities with populations under 10,000 to be selected.

The Blue Zones initiative incorporates nine different principles that lead to a healthier and happier life. The principles consist of: move naturally, know your purpose, down-shift, the 80 percent rule, plant slant, wine at five, family first, belong and right tribe. From those principles, a Power 9 Advisory Board was assembled with members making it a point to get the community involved as much as possible. A number of sub-committees were formed in hopes of generating interest among the residents. A few of the committees included restaurants, school districts and local businesses. Officials were hard at work to make sure the principles were enforced - one of the determining factors for the Blue Zones representatives.

As of right now, no concrete plans have been laid out from Blue Zones representatives or area leaders. They hope to continue to push the concepts throughout the community for the time being. Blue Zones reps are expected to meet with the Advisory Board at the end of the month.

"I think the community will see a ton of awareness going on, some very intentional changes in a number of community of efforts," Johnson said. "You kind of already see some of the grocery stores and restaurants buying in on this. The schools are having a bigger role in this. I think what we are going to see is a very intentional way to bring about these changes."

Locals who have pledged in the past are now encouraged to set up a checklist or plan out ways they will get more involved with the Blue Zones project. It can be as simple as making changes to your diet or making it a point to get out and about more often. Residents are encouraged to visit the website www.bluezonesproject.com, like the Facebook page and follow along on Twitter (@SLBlueZones). The future looks bright and the community leaders are ready to take the next step.

"We started this thing over a year ago and have had tremendous community support," Johnson said. "I just couldn't be happier for the way the community has rallied around this and become involved, and they are really knowledgeable about (Blue Zones). We are excited and it is a great honor; you can't be anything but proud."



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