According to the “Blue Zones” research, the two most vulnerable years in life are the year we are born and the year we retire. That may seem surprising, since an abundance of free time is usually cause for celebration, not concern. With retirement, though, many of us lose a sense of purpose.
Dan Buettner’s studies of the Blue Zones (communities in the world in which people likely live past 100) found that the centenarians share nine things in common, including a strong sense of purpose. The Blue Zones Project aims to take the lessons learned from Buettner’s research around the world and transform communities into healthier places to live. United Way of Collier County leads the volunteer component of the Blue Zones Project in Naples, FL, helping residents reimagine their purpose and make a difference.
United Way of Collier County and the local Blue Zones Project offer opportunities for retirees and others to bring some of the healthy lifestyle benefits that exist in Naples’ affluent coastal neighborhoods to inland neighborhoods like Golden Gate City, where 66% of residents are living in poverty. For example, Blue Zone volunteers and other teams built 130 children’s bicycles during United Way of Collier County’s annual Build-a-Bike event in November. Along with a brand new bike, children received a helmet and bike lock. The Collier County Sheriff's Office was there to provide helmet fittings and bike safety courses. Other Blue Zones volunteers have built community gardens in food deserts, and helped residents to harvest and use the fresh produce for meals.
In Southwest Florida, well-being continues to improve. The Blue Zones Project there is sponsored by NCH Healthcare System, bringing local government, businesses, nonprofits and individuals together in pursuit of long and healthy lives through environmental and policy changes that make it easier for residents to make healthy choices. For example, rather than asking residents to walk or bike more, improving sidewalks and bike lanes – plus an ongoing, public conversation about committing to the Blue Zones principles – will make walking or biking more desirable than driving.
The children who received bikes get to experience the freedom and adventure of riding and the positive outcomes of physical activity. And perhaps they are learning the value of biking versus riding in a car or bus. The volunteers, too, made a healthy choice of staying active and living with purpose. Finding purpose and finding fun leads to a brighter future for all.