Fort Worth aims to get health­ier as a Blue Zone city, and you can join in

Star-Telegram - - Front Page - BY LUKE RANKER lranker@star-tele­gram.com

Roxanne Martinez saw a prob­lem.

While chil­dren in the Di­a­mond Hill North Side Youth As­so­ci­a­tion were at foot­ball prac­tice, par­ents sat, some times in iso­la­tion.

Martinez won­dered: Why not get them up mov­ing around like their kids?

“It builds bonds and morale,” she said, re­fer­ring to groups of par­ents, some­times as large as 40, walk­ing the track at Di­a­mond Hill-Jarvis High School. “You get out there and hear each other’s sto­ries. It’s re­ally built up the com­mu­nity, I think.”

Dubbed “Walk­ing Wed­nes­days,” the walk­ing group is part of the Blue Zones Project, a na­tion­wide ef­fort to build healthy life­styles and well-be­ing.

Fort Worth this past month be­come the largest cer­ti­fied Blue Zones city in Amer­ica. That means the city, schools and some em­ploy­ers have com­mit­ted to en­cour­ag­ing health­ier liv­ing ei­ther through in­creased ex­er­cise, health­ier di­ets or both, Mayor Betsy Price said. It’s also an in­di­ca­tion of the city’s qual­ity of life.

“It makes the city vi­brant and con­nects peo­ple,” she said. “Peo­ple are out, talk­ing to their neigh­bors, go­ing to parks. There’s an el­e­ment of re­lax­ation.”

To cel­e­brate the des­ig­na­tion, a free event 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Satur­day at Will Rogers Me­mo­rial Cen­ter, 3401 W. Lan­caster, will in­clude en­ter­tain­ment, fit­ness demon­stra­tions, plant-slant snacks and re­fresh­ments, kids ac­tiv­i­ties, com­mu­nity vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties, and more.

Blue Zones is built off the re­search of by Dan Buet­tner, a Na­tional Geo­graphic Fel­low and New York Times best­selling author, who iden­ti­fied five cul­tures with a longer life­span and higher sense of well-be­ing. Those cul­tures were all more ac­tive, ate health­ier and were sur­rounded by an en­vi­ron­ment that en­cour­aged healthy life­styles, said Matt Dufrene, vice pres­i­dent of Blue Zones Project, Fort Worth.

The process to make Fort Worth a Blue Zone city be­gan about five years ago, but has al­ready had an im­pact.

In 2014 Fort Worth was one of the least healthy cities in Amer­ica, rank­ing 185 out of 190 on the Gallup-Share­care Well-Be­ing In­dex, an an­nual na­tional health study. Since then Fort Worth res­i­dents cut smok­ing by 31 per­cent and started ex­cis­ing 17 per­cent more.

“That shows we’re do­ing some­thing right in Fort Worth,” Dufrene said.

At the city level, plan­ners fo­cus on “com­plete streets” that make it safer for bikes and cars to share the road, side walks that en­cour­age walk­ing and im­prov­ing parks and trail ameni­ties, Price said.

Those in­fra­struc­ture changes are good for health but also good for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Mixed-use de­vel­op­ments such as West 7th en­cour­age walk­a­blil­ity. Busi­nesses also see re­duced costs.

“It makes Fort Worth much more ap­peal­ing for busi­nesses,” Price said. “Healthy work­ers cut health care costs and are more pro­duc­tive.”

At restau­rants, 66 in Fort Worth, din­ners will find ex­panded health foods. At the 20 gro­cery sto­ries, health foods, es­pe­cially fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles, are fea­tured more promi­nently and in some cases the candy in the check­out aisle has been re­placed with healthy grab-and-go op­tions like ba­nanas.

“Par­ents love go­ing to the Blue Zone check­out line be­cause they don’t have to worry about their kids ask­ing for candy,” Dufrene said.

For the 131 Fort Worth em­ploy­ers tak­ing part, in­clud­ing large com­pa­nies like Texas Health Re­sources and Lock­heed Martin, em­ploy­ees are en­cour­aged to take the stairs or park fur­ther away so they walk more. Some places en­cour­age walk­ing meet­ings and have re­vamped cafe­te­ria food of­fer­ings, he said.

Fort Worth schools are also en­cour­ag­ing more move­ment through­out the day and pro­vid­ing health food op­tions.

For Martinez, who helped de­velop Span­ish-lan­guage in­for­ma­tion for Blue Zones, re­tool­ing nutri­tional in­for­ma­tion has also had an im­pact.

She saw a lot of par­ents bring­ing chips and sug­ar­based drinks to the Di­a­mond Hill-Jarvis prac­tice. Her first pre­sen­ta­tion on nu­tri­tion was cen­tered on their chil­dren‘s per­for­mance on the field.

“I wanted to give the re­sources in a for­mat that fits our cul­ture,” she said. “I knew par­ents would be will­ing to make healthy choices if it was in a for­mat tai­lored to them”

SUB­MIT­TED

Roxanne Martinez, cen­ter with the back­pack, walks at Di­a­mond Hill-Jarvis High School. The group calls it “Walk­ing Wed­nes­days.”

SUB­MIT­TED

A Blue Zone Project check­out lane fea­tures fresh fruit.

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