For several months — after an agreement made with the Avedis Foundation to bring Blue Zones here — Blue Zones Project coordinators have been working to establish the well-being initiative in Pottawatomie County; now a kickoff is in sight.

For several months — after an agreement made with the Avedis Foundation to bring Blue Zones here — Blue Zones Project coordinators have been working to establish the well-being initiative in Pottawatomie County; now a kickoff is in sight.

Many public and committee meetings have dotted calendars in past months, gearing up to push the program here.

Just announced on social media, the effort's kickoff event has officially been set toward the end of August.

From 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Aug. 26, Blue Zones Project will host its kickoff event in the Performing Arts and Athletic Center (PAAC) at Shawnee High School.

“Kickoff is a celebration to announce Blue Zones Project in our community and we will begin the well-being transformation journey in our county by educating and inspiring citizens and leaders,” the Facebook post for BlueZonesProjectPottawatomieCounty reads.

Featured at the event will be an obstacle course, games, vendor booths, give-aways, volunteer opportunities and more.

How it started

In an effort to discover how to live longer, healthier lives, in 2004 a team went in search of those who could best provide the answer –– people breaking the 100-year mark with no signs of slowing down.

“What began as a National Geographic expedition to find the longest living cultures evolved into a recipe for living longer that we’re taking across the country,” Blue Zones author Dan Buettner states on the website, bluezones.com.

The journey revealed a handful of hotspots where many age-defiers thrive: Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, Calif.; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Nicoya, Costa Rica.

During an informational visit to Shawnee in October, Blue Zones speaker Ben Leedle said what the group found was a number of similarities in the way of life for the centenarians.

According to the Danish Twins Study, 80 percent of a person's lifespan is determined by lifestyle choices and environmental factors –– only 20 percent is genetic.

Among the main contributors to a longer, healthier life included having a primarily plant-based (fruits and veggies) diet, a committed social network, regular physical activity, a system of faith and a purpose to fulfill, Leedle said.

The group is now entering specific sites to seed the environment with the host of longevity-based components to boost potential for increased wellbeing.

The group has seen much promise in areas where they have replicated the formula.

Since 2009, the community in Albert Lea, Minn. –– the group's flagship endeavor –– has shed 12,000 pounds, slashed healthcare costs, and added over three years to their average life expectancy, according to the Blue Zones website.

Several towns in Iowa have joined the Blue Zones team, helping it in its effort to become the healthiest state by 2016, the site reads.

Right now, Oklahoma ranks 48th in overall wellbeing.

Blue Zones believes it can help.

According to data gathered about Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain and Pottawatomie Counties –– a population of 412,645 –– Leedle offered a diagnostic of the area:

• one in two: Do not exercise

• one in three: Experience physical pain

• one in three: Worry about money

• one in four: Health is not near perfect

• one in six: Have exercise restrictions

• one in seven: Challenged to afford food, health care and/or medicines

• one in eight: Challenged with hope and purpose

The Blue Zones researchers broke it down further –– singling out Pottawatomie County alone. The data results were dismal.

Leedle said the county is driving up the risks for higher costs to address these health issues.

Pottawatomie County rates 45.3 percent in Body Mass Index (BMI), whereas the four counties together show 35.9 percent.

In tobacco use, the county shows 36.7 percent while the four combined counties register at 22.8 percent.

Stress is rated 43.9 percent for Pottawatomie County and the four together show 39.5 percent. Also, high blood pressure is 4.1 percent higher –– at 37.8 percent ––than the group of counties.

“There is an exacerbation here,” Leedle said.

Smoking and obesity are key areas of concern for the area, Leedle said.

He said, with Blue Zones here, over 10 years the area could see up to $44 million in savings in medical costs alone.

Leedle said the city can expect a laundry list of positive results:

• a measurable increase in wellbeing

• lower health care costs

• improved productivity

• alignment for grants, gifts and funding

• less tobacco usage

• more active population

• drop in obesity rates

• boost in economic vitality

Coming up

Before the kickoff, a worksite summit is scheduled. Forums discussing food and tobacco also have recently been held.

At no cost to worksites, Blue Zones Project is offering a workshop to help businesses across Pottawatomie County transform environments so healthy choices become easier choices.

The upcoming forum is set for 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 16.

For more information about Blue Zones Project, visit www.bluezonesproject.com.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.