Ask the PAC: What are Blue Zones?

“Our job at Blue Zones is to help people live longer, better lives,” said senior vice president Tony Buettner.|

In an effort to boost the overall health and well-being of the greater Petaluma community, the Petaluma Health Care District is partnering with leaders from what’s known as the Blue Zones Project now active in at least 70 cities across 14 states.

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In a May 17 and 18 kickoff event series at Petaluma’s New Life Christian Fellowship site, city staff and Blue Zones leaders laid out how the movement came to life and how they hope it will enrich and improve the lives of Petaluma residents through a combination of diet, exercise, socialization and community improvements.

Question: What will a Blue Zones initiative mean for Petaluma and how will it be implemented?

Answer: Before Blue Zones begins its official activity in Petaluma, its experts will work with local leaders and organizations to learn about the state of the city’s overall well-being in what’s called a Readiness Assessment, which is expected to last throughout the summer.

“Our group doesn’t come in and tell you what to do,” said Blue Zones senior vice president Tony Buettner. “These are community-led initiatives but we bring the proven tools – the rigor, the accountability, the access to experts – to help you decide.”

In his keynote address at the Wednesday Blue Zones kickoff, Buettner said he was inspired to launch the movement after he took a 15,000 mile bike ride from the U.S. to South America with his brother after they finished college.

“It opened our eyes to different cultures, different foods, different families and so forth. And it really sent us on the path of exploration,” he said, as he described his discovery of other communities and their unique and heightened sense of well being.

Buettner then set out on a quest, teaming up with National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging to hire the “brightest and best demographers, anthropologists, medical researchers” and put his sights on “finding the fountain of youth.” As a result, the team found an initial five “blue zones” in the world, or communities where people live at least 10 years longer on average than those in other parts of the world.

The first of those was found on the island of Sardinia, about 50 miles off the coast of Italy, where he said people primarily walk or bike, raise their own food and hold community events such as farmers markets, where neighbors can interact with one another, and people get regular, low-intensity exercise. It’s the type of lifestyle that Buettner wanted to multiply around the globe.

In Petaluma, the Blue Zones group would work with residents, but also collaborate with local grocers and businesses to find a way to lower the cost of healthy foods and limit easy access to junk foods, such as putting healthier snacks near the checkout stands rather than candies and sugary, high-fat foods.

Achieving overall wellness and a long lifespan isn’t just about physical health, but also emotional and spiritual health, according to Blue Zones project workers. So its leaders also host “purpose workshops” where people can identify their strengths and be inspired to connect with others and participate in acts of volunteerism, for example.

Blue Zones will also work with schools, faith-based communities and workplaces to update their environments and create networking opportunities that would help residents have a balanced lifestyle.

“Our job at Blue Zones is to help people live longer, better lives,” Buettner said.

In workshops and beyond, the team of experts will help residents look at and attain what is called the “power nine,” the lifestyle habits that most increase likelihood of living longer -- move naturally, having purpose, down shifting from a stressful day, stop eating when your stomach is 80% full, eating plant-based protein, drink moderately, belong, put families first and find the right social circle.

Blue Zones is also planning to launch a community walking group in August.

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at or 707-521-5208.

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