Financing, Health Policy, Leadership, Operations Improvement

Improved Economic and Employee Health is Goal of Blue Zones Strategies

37740635By Stephanie Hegland, MBA

In this age of health care reform, corporations are looking to innovative care delivery models – such as accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes — to bend the proverbial cost curve by improving the health and well-being of their employees. Recently, Kare 11 News profiled a different approach to improving employee health by implementing Blue Zones principles.

Salo, Oberon and NumberWorks – three affiliated Minneapolis contract staffing companies – became the first organizations to seek a Blue Zones Certified designation. “Workplaces with greater well-being have fewer health care costs and are among the best places to work,” said Dan Buettner, founder of Blue Zones, when he introduced the six-month initiative last September. The Blue Zones Certified Workplace designation is his effort to systematically create an environment of health by focusing on four optimal behaviors: move naturally, have the right outlook, eat wisely, and connect with family and friends.

Collectively, Blue Zones principles represent what Buettner has discovered during his global research to identify communities where more people reach the age of 100 than anywhere else, communities which he termed Blue Zones. The nine lifestyle characteristics common to Blue Zones residents were profiled in his book, The Blue Zones:  Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (2008). Following  a five-year study of the happiest people in the world, Buettner published Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way (2010), which catalogues the six dimensions of life which most influence authentic happiness.

Many of the behaviors exhibited by those living healthier, happier and longer lives are not unlike those promoted by physicians in Western medical clinics: eat more fruits and vegetables, move more, sit less, decrease stress, and surround yourself with supportive, encouraging, and healthy friends. Additionally, Buettner’s research found the longest-living people also have a life purpose, stop eating at 80% full, drink alcohol moderately, belong to a faith-based community, and put family first.

The Blue Zones Community initiative, in partnership with AARP, the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and the United Health Foundation, applied the same tenets found in the Blue Zones book to residents of Albert Lea, Minnesota. During a year-long pilot, participants made small lifestyle and environmental changes to improve eating habits, increase activity, create greater social connection and establish a clear sense of purpose. Residents lost a combined 12,000 pounds, increased life expectancy 3.1 years, reduced absenteeism by 21%, and showed a 40% decrease in health care costs. Subsequent Blue Zones Communities were launched in California and Iowa, and continue to deliver similar results.

Buettner is internationally recognized as a researcher, explorer and best-selling author, who founded Blue Zones to implement the best practices discovered in his travels into the everyday lives of people everywhere. In addition to presenting, writing, and blogging about his findings, Buettner has developed educational curriculum to challenge youth to explore, question and act in ways that promote health and happiness. His website features checklists to score and offer improvements in your home environment and social network.



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