Vitality Project: Transforming a Town for Longer Life

One Minnesota town changes from inside out in hopes of healthier living.

July 22, 2009— -- The town of Albert Lea, Minn., and its residents are going through some major changes all with one goal in mind: living healthier today in hopes of living longer tomorrow.

The town of 18,000 is changing a lot, from sidewalks to attitudes, to put to use lessons learned by Dan Buettner as he explored areas of the world he calls "Blue Zones," where the people live longer.

It's a longevity makeover Buettner is leading in partnership with the AARP with the goal of adding two years to the lives of everyone that participates.

"We expect to see a collective life expectancy gain of 10,000 years," Buettner said. "We'll have 20 to 25 percent of the population engaged."

Click here to visit the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project Web site. The AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project is sponsored by the United Health Foundation.

In addition, Buettner expects each participant to lose five to eight pounds "without thinking about it."

Transformation Step 1: Walk It Off

One great step toward living a healthier live is increased walking. Walking for just 30 minutes a day can lower the risk of diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases. Studies have shown that if neighborhoods have lots of sidewalks, bike lanes and parks, physical activity can increase as much as 48 percent.

So in the spirit of "Field of Dreams," the idea in Albert Lea is "if you build it, they will come."

The town has renovated its sidewalks so they connect the community. The town has already responded with more than 700 people joining walking groups and taking to the pavement.

Click here for more information on Albert Lea's infrastructure initiatives.

Transformation Step 2: De-Convenience Your Life, Control the Diet

The people of Albert Lea are also looking for ways to burn calories inside their own homes by de-conveniencing their lives.

Participants in the program tossed their electronic and mechanical conveniences -- everything from remote controls to electric can openers.

To control the size of meals, Buettner also suggested simply using smaller plates and putting away food before eating.

Transformation Step 3: How Healthy is Your Social Circle?

A large part of living healthy depends on the people in your social circle, Buettner said.

"If your three best friends are obese there is a 60 percent you'll be obese or overweight," he said.

Buettner said the project helps people take inventory of who they're hanging out with now so they can work to be around people who have a healthier impact on their lives.

Part of the Vitality Project is the "walking moai" program, in which groups of participants make a commitment to walk together, both for their health and to help reconnect with the people of Albert Lea.

Click here to head to the Vitality Resource Center.