Ft. Worth's bike sharing program debuted in April
Alan Scaia, WBAP 24/7 News
FT. WORTH (WBAP 24/7 NEWS) - Fort Worth and Texas Health Resources have started with an organization that studies regions with the longest life expectancies in the world.
The Blue Zones Project has identified five regions around the world where residents are most likely to live to at least 100 years old. Organizers then try to recreate the same conditions in cities in the United States.
The project's Dan Buettner has identified nine behaviors common to each "Blue Zone." They center on relationships, diet and lifestyle.
The Blue Zones were identified in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica and Loma Linda, California.
In Sardinia, shepherds routinely walk several miles a day, but they also take naps and drink wine. Buettner says more frequent low-intensity activity has helped residents stay active and independent late in life.
"For the most part, [residents of Blue Zones] don't exercise," he says. "They really don't. In Blue Zones, people's lives are 'deconvenienced'. They don't have a button they can push for yard work or house work or kitchen work."
Okinawa has 30 times as many 100 year old women than the worldwide average. The average woman there has several close friends and several generations will come together to raise children.
In Loma Linda, Seventh Day Adventists spend much of their Sabbath outdoors. Buettner says spending time with people of similar faith contributes to longevity there.
In most cases, residents of Blue Zones will continue working late into life, maintaining a sense of purpose. Buettner says Americans are three times more likely to die in the first year of retirement than they are in their last year in the workforce.
Buettner has assembled a team that has tried to spread the same habits to cities across the United States.
Three cities near Los Angeles with a total population of 120,000 have adopted the Blue Zone program. Since 2010, the obesity rate in the three cities has dropped 14 percent and health care costs have dropped by $9.3 million.
Buettner acknowledges challenges in adapting the program to a city the size of Ft. Worth, with a population nearing 800,000.
"You start with the communities within Ft. Worth that are most ready," he says. "You look at the neighborhoods that are saying, 'We're tired of being overweight. We're tired of heart disease.'"
The Blue Zone Project will spend the next two weeks studying Ft. Worth. If those neighborhoods cannot be identified, Buettner says the organization will move on.
Mayor Betsy Price believes the city's existing commitment to reducing childhood obesity and accommodating cyclists and pedestrians shows a willingness to change.
"Look at the urban villages that bring back growth and development to the city, getting people out and engaged, becoming a front porch community," she says.
Buettner says change cannot be forced on residents. Instead, he says healthy choices should simply be made more attractive.
"We have one of Time Magazine's greatest innovators of the last century on our team," he says. "He works with city planners to make the active option the easy option for the least amount of money."
(Copyright 2013 WBAP 24/7 News. All rights reserved)