UNI is 'in the zone'

Sardina, Italy. Ikaria, Greece. Okinawa, Japan. Nicoya, Costa Rica. Loma Linda, Calif.

These communities have an abundance of centenarians – people who have lived 100 years or more. Their stories have inspired a nationwide endeavor called the Blue Zones Project, designed to bring healthy lifestyle principles to towns, cities and neighborhoods near you.

Blue Zones
An orange juice machine is available to students every morning in Rialto during the school year. This is one of many examples of how UNI is creating a healthy dining environment.

Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Healthways brought the Blue Zones Project to Iowa as the centerpiece of the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative. BlueZonesProject.com says the Blue Zones Project in Iowa represents the largest community well-being improvement initiative ever launched. So far, more than 12,000 Iowans statewide have pledged their support.

Cedar Falls has been designated a Blue Zones demonstration site. To become a true Blue Zones community, 50 percent of the top 20 worksites need to become certified. As one of those top 20 sites, UNI is working toward certification with a campus-wide team of Blue Zones ambassadors. UNI's Rialto and Piazza dining centers and Prexy's, a retail location, have already been awarded a Blue Zones Restaurant Certification for implementing changes that create a healthy dining environment.

"Staying healthy and improving our well-being is important; it allows us to feel and do our best where we live and work," said Bobbi Vandegrift, UNI employee benefits and wellness coordinator, and Blue Zones Leadership team member.

"Healthy, productive employees come from healthy communities. The worksite pledge identifies best practices specific to the workplace in an effort to optimize the environment and help make the healthy choice the easy choice for those who work at UNI."

Blue Zones Power 9 principles are nine small steps, all shared by people living in the original Blue Zones areas, that help people live healthier and happier for a longer period of time. These principles include such things as moving naturally, putting family first, and eating more fruits and vegetables.

Kathy Green, director of University Health Services and chair of the UNI Healthy Campus Coalition, is an advocate of the Blue Zones concepts. "I have been living the Blue Zones philosophy most of my life without even realizing it," she said. "We need to nourish our spirit through introspection, reflection, volunteerism and knowing our purpose. I try to do all of that as part of my daily life."

Green incorporates the principle "moving" into her lifestyle by riding her bike across town to work. In 2012, she rode all but 24 days of her 207-day work year.

"We are fortunate to work for an organization that has a number of health and wellness opportunities for those interested in pursuing a healthy lifestyle," said Vandegrift. "UNI is committed to its support of the Blue Zones Project and making our campus and community a happier, healthier place to work and live."