By Dr. Susan Johnson
Life is short, so it should be lived well. To me, good health is the path to a full and happy life. I’m one of the fortunate few who have found my life’s work in the thing I’m most passionate about — healthy living. In addition to promoting wellness at work, my career goals center on community outreach efforts to create a culture of well-being where people work, live, learn, play and pray, positively impacting quality of life.
As a member of the City of Charleston Wellness Advisory Committee, I am working with a group of dedicated health and wellness professionals to make Charleston not only one of the top tourist destinations but also one of the top places to work and live. So when I learned about the Blue Zones while attending an American College of Lifestyle Medicine conference last year, I was hooked.
The Blue Zones are places — actual cities — where people live longer and better lives. In 2004, National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner teamed up with longevity researchers to identify global areas where people live measurably longer and better. According to National Geographic, the specific definition of Blue Zones is this: “Those places where we have a demographically confirmed, geographically defined, area where people are either reaching age 100 at extraordinary rates, have the highest life expectancy, or the lowest rate of middle age mortality.” Through their research, they found nine key lifestyle choices these communities had in common and formed the Power 9® — lessons we can apply to our own lives.
Power 9® principles:
- Move naturally
- Know your purpose
- Down shift
- The 80 percent rule (stop eating when 80 percent full)
- Plant slant
- Wine at 5 (moderate drinking in a social environment)
- Family first
- Belong (faith communities)
- Right tribe (health-minded social circle)
The Blue Zones that have been identified to date are Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; and Okinawa, Japan. Inspired by these longest-lived populations, the Blue Zones Project® is helping transform communities across the United States into areas where the healthy choice is easy and people live longer with a higher quality of life. The project’s unique, systemic approach to improving well-being — focusing on our “life radius” — is growing nationally, so far implemented in nine states and 42 communities. By optimizing the settings where we routinely spend our time, such as worksites, schools, restaurants, grocery stores, faith-based communities and neighborhoods, we make healthy choices easier — and naturally adopt healthier behaviors together as a community.
On November 1, 2017, over 160 community leaders and stakeholders convened at Founders Hall, Charlestowne Landing, to learn about the Blue Zones Project® from the project’s SVP Tony Buettner, brother of National Geographic researcher and author Dan Buettner, and its CEO Ben Leedle. Sponsored by the City of Charleston, MUSC’s Office of Health Promotion, the Charleston Healthy Business Challenge and Dr. Ann Wellness, this event intended to explore the unique opportunity and gauge broad community commitment and support. Response was overwhelming, and as a result, community leaders are continuing to explore the possibility of Charleston becoming the first Blue Zone city on the East Coast.
Good health is something that we all value — for ourselves, for our families and for our communities. But we also recognize that it doesn’t come easy and we can’t achieve it alone. As director of health promotion at MUSC, my job is to create a culture of wellness that encourages making health a priority — in our own lives, in the lives of our families and in our communities. To create a culture of wellness requires commitment to what we value, connection to our community and leading by example. Collaborative engagement is critical to achieving this goal, and we believe that developing relationships with diverse partners has the potential to create a collective impact that goes far beyond a single person or institution.
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share components of this amazing initiative that I believe is a game-changer in community well-being with Oblique Magazine’s readers. Each issue will explore components of the Power 9® and provide simple strategies that all of us can follow to lead healthier, happier lives. If you would like to learn more about Charleston’s quest to become the next Blue Zone City, email email@example.com. By following these guidelines, we can be there for our families; we can be more productive and engaged at work, at home and in our communities; and we can enjoy a healthy, happy life.
Dr. Susan Johnson is the director of health promotion at MUSC and member of the City of Charleston Wellness Committee. firstname.lastname@example.org.