Extending the healthy years
City of Airdrie has designs on becoming the ‘Blue Zone’ of Alberta
What do places such as Greece, Japan, Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, Calif., all have in common? These are some of the geographic areas of the world where some of the oldest people in the world are from, and if Airdrie has its way, it will be joining this list, as well.
Over the past three years, the City of Airdrie has worked with Abrio Health, health services stakeholders and the community at large to conduct a needs assessment to determine what areas of focus local residents want and need in an effort to become Canada’s healthiest community.
“Out of that assessment came a collective understanding that people wanted to be healthier but didn’t necessarily know how, or more to the point, needed support,” says Mark Seland, president, Abrio Health. “Abrio Health and the City (of Airdrie) researched international best practices in an effort to understand programming relating to achieving better health, as well as our existing extraordinary healthcare services and treatment when people are ill.”
After extensive international best practice research, The City of Airdrie and Abrio Health selected Blue Zones Project (BZP) as the program partner to engage and implement health programming in multiple sectors concurrently.
“Blue Zones Project utilizes a proven, research-informed measurement system to understand changes in individual and population health and correlates these changes against corresponding changes in medical and acute care usage and costs,” says Seland.
“In other Blue Zones communities, implementation of this framework has not only measurably proven people live healthier and longer, but significant savings to the health-care system are realized as some chronic and preventable diseases and conditions can be prevented.”
Seland believes that if people can change their lifestyles, the impact of these diseases can be drastically reduced.
“Many of the most prevalent diseases that impact our health and our health-care budgets are lifestyle diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and COPD,” Seland says.
“If we can change our lifestyle, we can change the impact of these diseases on our health, health-care system requirements and cost.”
According to Seland, early projections estimate that over a 10-year period in Airdrie alone, the Blue Zones Project could lead to $54 million in health-care savings, $39 million in productivity increases, and $15 million in economic development, for a total boost to the local community of $107 million.
“The current Blue Zones approach is inspired by National Geographic-supported research that identified five areas in the world where people were found to live longer, ‘nudged’ to make health choices (by) their physical and social environments,” explains Seland.
From these naturally occurring “Blue Zones,” the formalized system that is now being implemented in Airdrie is based around nine commonalities found in each of the original Blue Zones, known as the Power 9. These fit into four general categories, including moving naturally, eating wisely, right outlook and belonging.
“In other communities where BZP has been implemented, there are many important lessons we would like to explore within the Airdrie BZP for seniors specifically,” says Seland. “Helping seniors live longer in their healthy years is the goal.
“We have seen a number of examples to support this goal, such as mobilizing connections across formal and informal services in the community, creating safety nets within neighbourhoods and, ultimately, finding local ways to address isolation and loneliness — a significant contributor to seniors’ health.”
Seland says they have seen examples to encourage an intergenerational focus for healthy living and aging in our own communities. In some places this looks like affordable housing across generations; in others, it is inter-generational involvement in schools.
If we can change our lifestyle, we can change the impact of diseases on our health, health-care system requirements and cost.”