Vitality Project: Did It Make a Town Healthier?

Vitality Project: Did It Make a Town Healthier?ABC News
The town of Albert Lea, Minn., and its residents have gone through some serious changes in the past year. Ten months ago the town's leaders teamed up with Dan Buettner, Blue Zones author and longevity expert, and the AARP to begin transforming the town's infrastructure and attitude to hopefully make the town's residents lead healthier, happier and hopefully longer lives in what's known as the Vitality Project, sponsored by United Health Foundation.

The town of Albert Lea, Minn., and its residents have gone through some serious changes in the past year.

The town of 18,000 changed 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 that Buettner is leading in partnership with AARP. It's sponsored by United Health Foundation with the goal of adding two years to the lives of everyone who participates.

For the past 10 months, the residents of Albert Lea have seen their lives change little by little, from the layout of the town to encouraging individuals to be more active in everyday life, spreading the message at workplaces and in restaurants. a

VIDEO: People of Albert Lea, Minn., change their habits and add years to their life.Play

So how'd they do?

According to Buettner, better than expected. Rather than adding two years to their lives, using a life-span calculator, Buettner estimates the residents who participated in the program will add an average of 3.1 years to their lives.

The residents said they gained more than that. In one of the last meetings with the participants, Buettner said about 500 said they had made new friends thanks to the project.

Others said they found a new way to live their lives through the hobbies that the project suggested.

"Something was missing," one resident said. "We were basically living through our kids' lives. And you know, you have to take time for yourself too."

VIDEO: Dan Buettner explains his Blue Zones project and its connection to long life.Play

One resident said the project was good for everyone as a group.

"It has reconnected our community in a way I never thought possible," resident Randy Kehr said.

Click here to learn how Albert Lea transformed itself for the healthier.

Click here to visit the AARP's Create the Good Web site.

Small Things to Stay Healthy This Winter

While Albert Lea went through some major and some minor changes, Buettner said there are a few things everyone can do even in the winter to stay healthy.

Vitamin D, Without the Sun

When it gets frosty out, it might be harder to get as much sun as you need, Buettner said, but vitamin D is still important. Rather than sunbathing in the cold, Buettner recommended taking vitamin supplements.

Invite People Over

"Isolation kills," Buettner said. In his travels, Buettner learned that at a certain age people that are surrounded by healthy people tend to live longer.

Serve Dinner by Plate, Not Platter

An easy way to keep portions under control, Buettner said, is to keep the dinner platter off the dinner table. Instead, plate your dinner at the counter or in the kitchen and bring it back to the table.