The Umpqua region, with a focus on Roseburg, will be one of the three new demonstration communities in Oregon for the Blue Zones Project, a program meant to help residents improve their health and well being.

Blue Zones is based on a project by National Geographic fellow and New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner, who identified five areas of the world where people live the longest, healthiest, most balanced lives.

These places, namely Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; and Okinawa, Japan, have come to be called Blue Zones.

“These places have the highest percentage of people living into their 100s, but they’re not just living longer, they’re living better,” Juliete Palenshus of Roseburg said.

Now, the Blue Zones Project is trying to implement some of the strategies and lifestyles prevalent in those places into communities like Roseburg and the other new demonstration communities in Oregon, Grants Pass and The Dalles.

Klamath Falls began the three-year program in 2016.

“They’ll use the strategies they found in those longevity hot spots, those Blue Zones, to make changes to where we live, work, learn and play,” Palenshus said. “The idea is to make the healthy choice the easy choice in all those areas and to see improvements to our health and well being.”

Palenshus, of Umpqua Community Veg Education Group (UC-VEG), is on the discovery team to bring a local perspective to the national project and help Blue Zones understand how to connect with stakeholders and best modify its strategies to meet the community’s needs.

Oregon Healthiest State and Cambia Health Foundation partnered with Blue Zones Project to bring the program to the Oregon communities.

Douglas County is currently ranked 31 out of 36 Oregon counties for health. The state as a whole ranks 27th in the country.

Oregon Healthiest State’s goal is to increase this ranking to first by 2020. Through the Blue Zones project, the organization hopes to lift up communities like the Umpqua region that are falling behind.

“It’s a huge honor we’re getting to have this kind of support in the area,” John Dimof of UC-VEG said.

Program coordinators visited the area in October, and Oregon Healthiest State announced the selection April 20.

Community conversations and information gathering sessions are expected to start in May. Through polling and discussions, the discovery team plans to get a feel for the current state of health in the Umpqua region.

UC-VEG has already been implementing concepts used by Blue Zones for the past six years, including the “Power 9,” which Blue Zones claims are the “nine secrets of longevity.”

These include making movement and exercise a functional part of the day, managing stress and practicing mindfulness, eating plant-based meals, having a sense of purpose, being part of a community and having a family-first mindset.

Dimof said the changes will happen on a city-wide scale and Blue Zones will go beyond personal practices to help the community implement these values into municipal policy, infrastructure, businesses, schools and other structures.

“It’ll reach more people that are really in need and desperate to see changes happen in their own health and well being, but also in the greater infrastructure of health and well being too,” Palenshus said.

She added everyone is invited to participate in the initiative.

The project offers an opportunity for anyone to volunteer, take part in community teams, work toward policy changes and more. People can also pledge their support on the Blue Zones Project website.

Local donors helping to fund the project include the Ford Family Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, Adapt, Douglas Education Service District, Umpqua Health Alliance and CHI Mercy Health.

“People can really celebrate this is something great that’s come to our community,” Palenshus said. “We have this opportunity to have leadership, expertise and matching funding for what could potentially be really impactful for the community.”

For more information, visit bluezonesproject.com or call Oregon Healthiest State at 503-595-7604.

Reporter Emily Hoard can be reached at 541-957-4217 or ehoard@nrtoday.com. Or follow her on Twitter @hoard_emily.

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Business, Natural Resources and Outdoors Reporter

Emily Hoard is the business, outdoors and natural resources reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4217 or by email at ehoard@nrtoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @hoard_emily.

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