Highlands and Blue Zones

At the November Town Board meeting, commissioners gave the nod to exploring the possibility of Highlands becoming a Blue Zones Community® 

What’s a Blue Zones Community®? It’s literally a happy place where people eat healthy, exercise, enjoy their friends and community and live productively to a ripe old age.

Specifically, it’s an area in which citizens, schools, employers, restaurants, grocery stores, and community leaders come together to optimize residents’ longevity and well-being by impacting environment, policy, and social networks – which makes healthy choices easier.

Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner is a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author. He founded Blue Zones to put the world’s best practices in longevity and well-being to work in people’s lives. He and his doctor brother Tony envision Blue Zones across the country and the world.

Mayor Pat Taylor first brought up the subject in his “Mayor on Duty” column a few months back. He heard Dan Buettner speak at a League of Municipality meeting and the concept inspired him. 

Sally Taylor,ex-Highlands School art teacher and wife of Mayor Pat Taylor, introduced the philosophy to commissioners asking only that they allow her to take the steps to investigate what it would take for Highlands to make the grade – and to agree to Phase 1 which is sitting for a 2-hour presentation by Buettner.

Phase 1 won’t cost the town anything – she has been donated the funds for Buettner’s speaking fee. Phase 2 includes a two-day examination of Highlands to see where improvements can be made which is where funds from the town would be needed if the town chose to implement Blue Zones suggestions. 

Sally said she isn’t sure what the group would suggest for Highlands because she and the mayor said Highlands is ahead of the game compared to other areas. There are sidewalks throughout town, the Green way, hiking trails, a vibrant spiritual community and places to exercise, play and gather.

“But this is just a lifestyle adopted by the whole community… whose benefits are measurable,” said Sally. “There is an increase in well-being, lower health care costs, improved productivity in people because they feel better, and people are motivated by friends and family. Our community could become an innovator in preventative health.” 

According to Buettner, when community comes together, it creates permanent changes which can be measured by the Gallop Healthwise Well Being Index. However,  at least 25,000 people are needed to participate – which is why Sally is reaching out to communities beyond Highlands envisioning a Blue Zone region to include Franklin, Cashiers and Sylva.

Metrics used to judge happiness include residents having trust (in their police, neighbors, and local government); good walkability and people-friendly design (sidewalks and safe streets); access to nature (parks, open spaces, trees); civic engagement; clean environment; access to affordable dental care; access to healthy food; and high rates of healthy behaviors (restrictions on smoking, less drug abuse, less obesity).

Specifically, Blue Zones Communities put family ahead of other concerns, they smoke less, are semi-vegetarianism where the majority of food consumed is derived from plants; moderate alcohol intake, especially wine; there is constant moderate physical activity which is considered an inseparable part of life; social engagement where people of all ages are socially active and integrated into their communities; engagement in spirituality or religion; and legumes are commonly consumed.

According to Dr. Clark with the HC Hospital Foundation, a potential stakeholder in the movement, this lifestyle leads to longer lifespans and less healthcare costs.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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