Roughly three years since Blue Zones first brought its data-backed ways to improve the quality of life for residents of Shawnee, many of the program's initial goals have been — or are on the verge of being — met.

Roughly three years since Blue Zones first brought its data-backed ways to improve the quality of life for residents of Shawnee, many of the program's initial goals have been — or are on the verge of being — met.

In the Fall of 2016 the Avedis Foundation hosted a seminar, bringing representatives from Blue Zones to Shawnee to introduce their well-being initiative to area residents — a proposal that was later approved by the Avedis board and brought to implement within the city.

On Thursday Blue Zones Project Organizational Lead Miriam Bell offered an update on what has been accomplished so far and what work is still to come in those sectors before its July 2020 deadline.

To date, several goals have been achieved:

• six schools have been approved

• three walking school buses have been established

• two grocery stores have been approved

• three faith-based organizations have been approved

• five food environment policies have been implemented

• three tobacco policies have been implemented

Goals near completion are:

• eight of the largest employers have been approved — two more are needed to meet the goal of 10

• seven restaurants have been approved — three more are needed to meet the goal of 10

• three built environment policies have been implemented — six more are needed to meet the goal of nine

How it works

Community-led, the Blue Zones Project is designed to make healthy choices easier through permanent changes to a city’s environment, policy and social networks.

For Shawnee to complete the first phase of the project and achieve designation as Blue Zones Project Certified Community, a majority of work includes nine key sector goals that must be achieved.

According to Blue Zones, at, the sector goals — known as the Power 9 — are:

• move naturally — “The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it,” the site states.

• purpose — “The Okinawans call it Ikigai, and the Nicoyans call it plan de vida; for both it translates to 'why I wake up in the morning'. Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy,” the site reads.

• downshift — “Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour,” the site states.

• 80-percent rule — “Hara hachi bu — the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20-percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the blue zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day,” the site reads.

• plant slant — “Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of a deck of cards,” the site reports.

• wine at 5 — “People in all blue zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday,” the site advises.

• right tribe — “All but five of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy,” the site states.

• loved ones first — “Successful centenarians in the blue zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to three years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love.

• belong — “The world’s longest lived people chose — or were born into — social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created moais, groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.

Blue Zones

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,

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

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 now enters 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.

When Leedle addressed Shawnee residents in October 2016, Oklahoma reportedly ranked 48 in overall well-being.

Pottawatomie County

According to data gathered about Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain and Pottawatomie Counties –– a population of 412,645 –– Leedle, in 2016, 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 was driving up the risks for higher costs to address these health issues.

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

In tobacco use, the county showed 36.7 percent while the four combined counties registered at 22.8 percent.

Stress rated 43.9 percent for Pottawatomie County and the four together showed 39.5 percent. Also, high blood pressure was 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.

“(Using Blue Zones methods) Over 10 years the area could see $44 million in savings in medical costs alone,” he said.

Leedle said if Shawnee followed the Blue Zones principles, the city could expect a laundry list of positive results, including:

• 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


Shawnee is the first — and so far only — community in Oklahoma to be part of the Blue Zones initiative.

To learn more about the Blue Zones Project in Pottawatomie County, call (405) 765-8052 or visit

Watch for updates.