An unusual celebration will occur Saturday afternoon and early evening at the Hermosa Beach Community Center, one that will feature bountiful food, an array of creative healthy living ideas and tools, and a few of the finest and most well-travelled motivational speakers on the planet.
The “BlueZaPalooza” LiveWell Expo and Speaker series, organized by the Beach Cities Health District and the Blue Zones Project, celebrates the third year since the cutting edge public health project arrived in the Beach Cities. Those three years have seen a 30 percent decline in smoking and 14 percent drop in obesity locally, as well as several other statistically significant increases in healthy behaviors, ranging from more vegetables being eaten to local residents waking up every morning with a measurably stronger sense of purpose and connection to the community in which they live.
This data has all been documented by Gallup as part of its national Well Being Index, which surveys key health indicators in 190 cities nationwide. The Beach Cities’ WBI numbers stand as some of the most startling health improvements identified in a population in so short a time span. “The improvements are impressive and real,” Gallup’s Dean Witters told the BCHD Board of Directors last February, shortly after the second year’s batch of data was released.
BlueZaPalooza represents a watermark moment in the Blue Zones Project – the end of three years and likely the beginning of three more years. BCHD appears on the cusp of approving a more highly localized project that builds on the successes already achieved.
“BlueZaPalooza is really a community celebration of an initiative that we embarked on three years ago, one that really has united the three Beach Cities around improving well being for the community,” said Lauren Nakano, the Blue Zone Project director for BCHD. “It’s an opportunity for us to highlight and showcase many, if not most, of initiatives and strategies that have been implemented over the last three years and also, with the speaker series, to celebrate many of the community partners who have been a part of this and really will carry it forward.”
“We really are pushing forward,” said Lisa Santora, BCHD chief medical officer. “I see it less as an ending and more as a beginning.”
But as much as Saturday marks a special day of celebration, the reality is that the celebration has been ongoing in the community over the course of the Blue Zones Project’s time in the Beach Cities.
Hundreds of kids are joyfully walking to school together in “Walking School Buses.” Co-workers are joining together to share healthy recipes and long noonday walks. Adults and children are gathering together at local parks and piers to dance and do yoga. City leaders across boundaries are laying the groundwork for more pedestrian and bike friendly streets. Restaurants are instituting gentle nudges – a dish that automatically comes with a salad rather than a standard order of French fries, menus that don’t present healthy options as unappetizing afterthoughts – that make more wholesome choices convenient.
On a more individual level, one father lost 20 pounds – while taking daily walks and bike rides with his three kids; a former school board trustee lost 25 pounds and a least ten years of worry from the lines of her face; the marketing director for a local mall likewise dropped weight while instituting healthy choices in a food court, of all places; a local school administrator who has become an avid “Zumba” enthusiast with his family and lost 30 pounds.
“It’s about balance,” Nakano said. “It’s not a diet, it’s not running a marathon – as super cool and great as that is. Blue Zones is about finding ways to be active in your day without feeling you have overcommitted, and then not succeeding later. It’s moving naturally.”
The Beach Cities, step by joyous step, are moving naturally towards becoming a Blue Zone.
Dan Buettner, the National Geographic explorer whose explorations into the world’s longest living and healthiest populations – deemed Blue Zones by demographers – formed the basis of the Project, said the community’s transformation is fast becoming a national model.
“This is what we set out to do,” said Buettner, who along with city bike-ability and walkability expert Dan Burden and locally based singer and motivation speaker Tom Sullivan will speak Saturday. “Our organizing principle is we make permanent and semi-permanent changes to the environment. Many of those changes will not bear fruit for years to come. That being said, this event caps off three years – three years of staggering success, according to Gallup…. And we’ve learned a ton.”
Santora said the medical industry has taken a deep interest at what is occurring here.
“We are getting a lot of attention nationwide for our efforts in the Blue Zones Project and the health district model overall,” Santora said. “What would have been an innovation in public health and is now firmly established – that real savings in health care can be realized by looking upstream and making investments in prevention, rather than solely focusing on sick care.”
“There’s no better model to demonstrate the importance of these investments than the Blue Zone Project, especially since we have a measurable outcome that I think has been a lynchpin to our success.”
The Blue Zone Project has since spread to the state of Iowa. Buettner said Texas and Hawaii are also considering implementing the project. This was also the idea at the outset – to create a model that could be used elsewhere – and Buettner said the success here has made the spread of the Blue Zones far more possible.
“It wouldn’t have been impossible, but it would have been a lot harder,” he said. “The Beach Cities are our biggest success.”
BlueZaPalooza takes place Oct. 12 at the Hermosa Beach Community Center and is free to the public (except the speaker series, which is $10 but free with the special code ERFREE that can be used at bzp.eventbrite.com). Dan Buettner and Dan Burden are the featured speakers from 2 to 4 p.m. Several community “sages” will also be recognized, awards for inspiration, transformation, and connection will be given, and booths featuring everything from edible face paints for kids to organic ice cream churned by bicycle pedaling will be featured.