Looking to the Blue Zones to increase health and longevity

blue zones

By Jill Borth, R.N. Adventist Health, Lodi Memorial

Throughout my 32-year nursing career, I’ve heard many comments from people in various stages of health and illness and noticed a common theme: People who are well, often state when it’s their “time to go” they’ll be ready. Yet most seriously-ill people are willing to do just about anything to buy more time. In the end, most of us wish to live long, healthy, happy lives. How is Lodi doing in fulfilling this wish? One litmus test is the lifestyle and wellness evidence found in the book, The Blue Zones.

“The majority of the US is approaching the idea of a long, healthy life the wrong way,” according to National Geographic writer and explorer, Dan Buettner’s latest book, The Blue Zones. The book focuses on five locations around the world – Greece, Loma Linda, Sardinia, Costa Rica and Okinawa, Japan — with either the highest percentage of people living to 100 years or longer, or the locations with the lowest rate of mortality. In the book, researchers debunked the health myth that a person’s genes largely contribute to health, weight and longevity.

“Only 25 percent of how long you live is dictated by your genes,” Buettner said. “The other 75 percent is lifestyle and environment.”  

The Blue Zone team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers and epidemiologists found nine lifestyle similarities in the zones that noticeably differ from our local lifestyle tendencies. These “Power 9” lifestyle factors are:

  1. Daily natural physical movement (gardening, house work, yard work, walking);
  2. Having a purpose or reason to wake up in the morning (adding up to 7 years of life);
  3. Stress-shedding routines (Okinawans remember their ancestors daily, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour);
  4. The 80 Percent Rule – stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full. People in Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and don’t eat any more the rest of the day;
  5. Plant-focused diets. Beans, including soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat is eaten on average only five times per month and serving sizes are about the size of a deck of cards;
  6. Wine at 5. Blue Zone populations (except Adventists) drink moderately (one to two glasses per day) with friends and/or with food;
  7. A sense of belonging or community. All but 5 of 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Research shows attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years to your life;
  8. Loved ones come first. Keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby (lowering disease and mortality rates of children in the home, too); committing to a life partner (adding up to 3 years of life); and investing in their children with time and love all contribute to longevity;
  9. Surrounding yourself with the right tribe. The world’s longest-lived people chose or were born into social circles that supported healthy behaviors. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness and even loneliness are contagious. The social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.

What can you do to add years to your life and start moving Lodi closer to a “Blue Zone?”

How does Lodi compare to the Blue Zones?

Buettner worked for a decade with National Geographic to locate places that not only had high concentrations of individuals over 100 years old, but clusters of people who had grown old without health problems such as heart disease, obesity, cancer or diabetes. The locations identified in his book are:

  1. The Barbagia region of Sardinia, which has the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians;
  2. Ikaria, Greece, with the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia;
  3. Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, home to the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality, and second highest concentration of male centenarians;
  4. The Seventh Day Adventists, most highly concentrated in the Loma Linda, CA, area, live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts; and
  5. Okinawa, Japan, whose female population over 70 are the longest-lived population in the world.

By contrast, here are the sobering facts about the state of health in Lodi:

  • San Joaquin County is the third highest county in the state for diabetes. People with diabetes have a two- to four-times greater risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Depending on which census tract you live in Lodi, your life expectancy ranges from 57.93 years to 80.68 years.
  • The leading causes of death in the county in 2016 were: 1) heart disease; 2) cancer; 3) stroke; 4) Alzheimer’s; 5) lung disease; 6) accidents; 7) diabetes; and 8) liver disease.

Many chronic diseases could be prevented, delayed or alleviated through simple lifestyle changes. The CDC estimates that eliminating just three risk factors — poor diet, inactivity and smoking — would prevent 80 percent of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, and 40 percent of cancer.

The Healthy Lodi Initiative Team will be compiling local resources, and helping to connect employers with tools to work toward improvement.  We hope that you join us for the health of us all! For more information about the Healthy Lodi Initiative, please visit the website: http://www.healthylodi.com or call the Chamber at 209-367-7840.

Take the Steps to a Healthy Workplace Program

By Mona Shulman, Pacific Coast Producers

Health statistics rank San Joaquin County as the third worst in the state for potential chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The Healthy Lodi Initiative is specifically asking Lodi’s employers to consider implementing employee healthy-lifestyle programs to help turn this statistic around.

Much has been written about the effectiveness of workplace wellness plans, and some of it conflicting. The Rand Corp in 2014 concluded that targeting only employees at high-risk of chronic disease reduced health care claims. On the other hand, General Motors in 2004 found that moderately active and very active employees had lower annual paid health care costs than inactive employees.

With all the conflicting information, an employer must decide what tools work best for their own workforce and budget.  Employers wanting to implement a successful workplace health initiative should follow these steps:

Wellness programs should be promoted by the company’s leadership

No matter what the result of the study, it seems clear that the decision to implement a wellness program must begin with the leadership, and that commitment must be real in order for any program to be effective. That means the company’s leaders must actively promote and encourage a culture of health at their workplace, including taking advantage of community resources and partnerships to support healthy lifestyles.

Know your employees

To be most effective, an employer must understand their employee population as a whole.  An agricultural employee will have different challenges and risks than an office employee, and the same program will not work for both.   We must understand the jobs our employees perform and how their tasks do or do not contribute to healthy habits. A program should be designed that fits the specific needs of our own workforce.

Assess your workforce

A health assessment survey is a good tool to get started in evaluating your employees’ specific needs. Employers can conduct an assessment of their company to determine where opportunities and barriers exist.  There are several assessment tools, including:

  • The Workplace Health Professionals Alliance – its Health Improvement Care assessment gives individuals an idea of how healthy their habits are.
  • The Center for Disease Control – its Workplace Health Promotion website (https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/initiatives/index.html) offers a variety of tools to assess your workplace. The CDC also has a Worksite Health Scorecard for employers to assess how they are doing on health promotion. Not only does this assessment seek to determine what employers are doing, it also offers insight into many options for employers to consider.
  • The California Department of Public Health also offers a Fit Business Kit with an assessment, and framework for putting together a program – https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CCDPHP/DEODC/OHB/Pages/OHB.aspx.

There are barriers outside of surveys as well. Does your employee demographic include cultures that are not inclined to regularly visit their physician, if they even have one? Is language an issue? Are there providers that speak the language of the employee? Are there healthy options for cooking the type of ethnic food that the employee eats at home?  All of these are relevant factors to consider in designing your plan to make it most effective.

Decide on a workplace program format

Once an assessment is completed, and you have a better idea of your needs and tools, there are many types of programs to choose from. Here are some ideas:

  • Self-Initiated Educational Programs – The simplest for employees are educational programs that deliver health-related information. These programs rely on employee initiative to seek out or read information and maintain their own interest in the program. This works well for those who are already attuned to healthy behaviors or wanting to become healthier.
  • Community and Social Participation – A program that is designed to foster community participation, and therefore healthier feelings of belonging and connection to community, include sports-related teams, clubs, interest groups and other community activities that can be encouraged by the employer.  This not only improves social connections, but also encourages physical activities.
  • Employer-Supported Programs – Employers can also motivate healthy lifestyle improvements. In this type of program, the employer provides changes in the workplace. Some examples are providing healthy food (and removing unhealthy food); subsidizing gym memberships; creating walking trails; holding walking meetings; or offering yoga classes. More targeted programs can include preventive care, such as screenings and biometric assessments.  These programs have the advantage of detecting risk early, and helping employees manage their conditions, usually with the assistance of the employee’s health care provider. Some employers have become even more active and promote disease management programs.  Where employees have significant health problems, healthcare professionals and counselors actively monitor and manage the employees’ treatment. Often, these programs can be implemented with the employer’s health insurance company.
  • Employee Incentives – The question remains, what is it that will motivate the employee to improve their health and lifestyle?  Financial incentives can lead to improvement based on a specific target. For example, an employee could earn $100 for losing 40 pounds or walking 30 miles in 30 days. Employee incentive offers, however, may not work for a long-term change of lifestyle.  In short, the employee must decide that the change in behavior is beneficial to them.

Above all, in order to be successful, an employer should choose a program that addresses negative behaviors and lifestyle choices they’ve identified through assessments. There should be active encouragement, and no negative consequences to the employee’s participation.  Organizational leadership should express support for employees engaged in wellness activities and recognize participant’s progress toward personal goals.

The Healthy Lodi Initiative Team will be compiling local resources, and helping to connect employers with tools to work toward improvement.  We hope that you join us for the health of us all! For more information about the Healthy Lodi Initiative, please visit the website: http://www.healthylodi.com or call the Chamber at 209-367-7840.


With the holiday season safely tucked away, many Lodians are now turning to the annual January tradition — New Year’s Resolutions. Arguably, the most common New Year’s Resolution revolves around health, and specifically weight loss.

But trying to fit back into those skinny jeans may not be the only reason for Lodi to drop a few post-holiday pounds. More importantly, it may save your life and help save Lodi employers thousands of dollars annually.

“It’s becoming more and more clear that if we want to help our local businesses reduce health care and worker’s compensation costs, we’ve got to help our workers become healthier,” said Pat Patrick, president and CEO of the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce. “We need to find ways to encourage our employees to make simple lifestyle choices that will curb disease and maximize well-being.”

Obesity is a grave public health threat, more serious even than the opioid epidemic, according to the Commonwealth Fund. It is linked to chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Obesity accounts for 18 percent of deaths among Americans ages 40 to 85, according to a 2013 study challenging the prevailing wisdom among scientists, which had placed the rate at around 5 percent. This means obesity is comparable to cigarette smoking as a public health hazard; smoking kills one of five Americans and is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

“Amid the many concerns our community faces, the most troubling is 1 out of 2 Lodians having diabetes or prediabetes by 2020,” said Kevin Attride, Network Strategies Executive at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial. “The research is clear that diabetes and the other chronic diseases closely associated with it are nearing epidemic trends, causing not only severe healthcare expenses for the average person, local business, and government, but arguably worse, this illness is silently crushing the livelihood and well-being of those effected. But there is good news: these diseases are largely preventable.”

With that mission in mind, a group of local leaders has formed to create the Healthy Lodi Initiative. Part of the Chamber of Commerce’s Vision 2020, the Healthy Lodi Initiative’s goal is to raise awareness about how making simple, healthy lifestyle changes can improve the health of the city’s families as well as improve the productivity and effectiveness of its businesses. The task force, comprised of community leaders, the Chamber of Commerce and health leaders at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial, chose to tackle factors dramatically causing obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases as its first initiative, specifically as it relates to business productivity and employee-related health care costs. These efforts are also planned to benefit the entire community: children, families, and seniors.

“For this reason, the Chamber of Commerce and Adventist Health Lodi Memorial have teamed up with community leaders to tackle this issue with the formation of the Healthy Lodi Initiative,” said Attride. “We’re kicking off 2019 by educating and listening to leaders and influencers at the Community Leadership Breakfast on January 10. We still have a few seats left, so we welcome more leaders to partner in launching a ‘Healthy Lodi’.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, the country’s bulging waistlines are not only contributing to chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, asthma, diabetes and arthritis, but those diseases are costing employers nearly $69 billion in lost productivity alone each year. The CDC further estimates that many of these chronic diseases — including type 2 diabetes — can be prevented, delayed or alleviated through simple lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise and improving nutrition, preventing 80 percent of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, as well as 40 percent of cancer.

Statistics from the CDC show six in ten Americans live with at least one chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, or diabetes. These and other chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in America, and they are also a leading driver of healthcare costs. Obesity’s link to chronic disease is not just impacting Lodi residents, but also the bottom line of the city’s employers as well.

“Employers are already paying an average of $15,000 per year for each employee’s insurance,” Patrick said. “If that employee has diabetes, add an average of 5 percent to the annual premium cost.”

The costs are even higher for worker’s compensation rates, which average $14,000 per claim.

“Claims with comorbidity diagnoses (such as type 2 diabetes) cost twice as much,” Patrick said. “This is not sustainable for our community, and this is not good business.Chronic disease is a massive problem – but a solvable one. Through policies that promote prevention, innovation and access, our political leaders can turn the page on a chronic disease epidemic that has plagued our nation for too long.”

The Healthy Lodi Initiative is kicking off its 2019 campaign with a Community Leadership Breakfast Thurs, Jan 10, at 7:15am at Crete Hall, Hutchins Street Square. The group is seeking the input of community leaders, human resource professionals, decision makers and business owners at the event.

“Community leaders will come together over breakfast to chart a healthier course for citizens of Lodi,” Patrick said.

For more information about the Healthy Lodi Initiative, please visit the website: http://www.healthylodi.com. For reservations to the kick-off Community Leadership Breakfast, please call the Chamber at 209-367-7840.

Lodi Area third highest in state in Diabetes cases

The medical community and the nation’s health professionals have been citing our weight gain stats for decades. But how do Lodi’s waistlines measure up? It appears Lodi has more inches to lose than the rest of California.

In California, about 25 percent of the adult population is considered obese. But in San Joaquin County, the adult obesity rate is 36 percent. It should come as no surprise, then, that the area’s residents are also ahead of the rest of the state in physical inactivity — 22 percent of Lodi is inactive, versus 18 percent of the state’s residents. Together, the obesity rates and physically inactivity rates are combining to result in 11 percent of San Joaquin County with a known type 2 diabetes diagnosis, versus a 10 percent diagnosis for the rest of California.

And the area’s children also appear to be leaders in the race to obesity.

About 40 percent of the state’s 5th graders are overweight or obese and at risk to developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. In San Joaquin County, a little more than 44 percent of the area’s 10- to 11-year-olds are overweight or obese.

Obesity’s clear link to chronic disease means Lodi is ranking higher in type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Consider these statistics:

  1. San Joaquin County has the third highest rate of diabetes in California.
  2. People with diabetes are 2-4 times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
  3. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in San Joaquin County and worldwide
  4. Diabetes is also among the leading causes of death in San Joaquin County.
  5. The CDC estimates that many chronic diseases could be prevented, delayed, or alleviated through simple lifestyle changes, preventing 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes as well as 40% of cancer.