The county could be first spot in the Northeast to employ the secrets of living longer.

What if generations of people in your community could live longer, healthier, happier lives? What if it wasn't so hard to do because the surroundings make it easy?

By leveraging secrets discovered in “Blue Zones” — rare longevity hotspots around the world — the Blue Zones Project helps transform communities nationwide into areas where the healthy choice is easy and where people live longer with a higher quality of life.

That’s the Blue Zones Project in a nutshell.

A movement is afoot in Ontario County to make this area a Blue Zone — perhaps becoming the first in the Northeast to adopt the secrets of these hotspots to create a community where people live longer and healthier.

“I think Ontario County is the perfect spot to come together, to really live the Blue Zone lifestyle,” said Ann Marie Cook, president of Lifespan of Greater Rochester. An organization that supports older adults and caregivers in Rochester and the Finger Lakes, Lifespan was dubbed March 8 the county’s Blue Zone coordinator by the Ontario County Board of Supervisors.

Lifespan will coordinate with like-minded entities such as Thompson Health, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and The Greater Rochester Health Foundation to jump-start the project. It will include a site visit from Tennessee-based, well-being improvement company Healthways, along with follow-up about how the county shapes up in terms of becoming a Blue Zone.

“Ontario County is certainly able to embrace this, to become the first in the Northeast to move forward with this," said Ontario County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Marren, who also is Victor town supervisor. "I support the concept and what it would mean.”

Marren is among many local officials and those in health and human services talking about the Blue Zones concept.

Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni at a Sept. 21 joint meeting last year of City Council and the Canandaigua Town Board, talked about Blue Zone areas of the world that work toward community health and wellness. The city hosted an adviser meeting with physicians, insurance companies, Thompson Health and health care providers who talked enthusiastically about seeing if a team from Blue Zone could assess the Canandaigua community.

"The goal is to make for a higher quality of life," Polimeni said at a meeting of City Council earlier this month. "I think it's an exciting idea."

Cook said she was at a presentation by Blue Zones researchers a few years ago. She learned that a community doesn’t need to have warm weather year-round like Florida to provide an environment that promotes optimal health and longevity. 

What it takes is leadership and commitment, which Cook said she sees in Ontario County.

So what is it?

The Blue Zones Project is inspired by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and New York Times best-selling author who identified five regions of the world — Blue Zones — with the highest concentration of people living to 100 years or older.

They include Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; and Okinawa, Japan.

The Blue Zones Project uses information collected from these regions to help transform communities into thriving places to live, work, eat and play. Blue Zones staff works with communities to help them improve everything from work sites to parks to stores to streets to schools, all to promote the highest level of health and well-being.

Does it work?

The first test city, Albert Lea, Minnesota, reported marked improvements in well-being, including a 49 percent drop in healthcare claims for city workers and a 21 percent reduction in absenteeism for key employers.

Currently, 42 communities in nine states with 2.2 million Americans have joined the Blue Zones Project. The movement includes three beach cities in California; 15 cities in Iowa; Albert Lea, Minnesota; the city of Fort Worth; and communities in Southwest Florida, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin.

How does it work?

When applying to become part of the Blue Zones Project, community leaders and residents identify local strengths and opportunities, and outline community efforts that might support the initiative.

Once a community is selected, local team members are hired to work within the community to develop and adopt a blueprint — a detailed plan with goals, strategies and metrics to guide implementation over the coming years.

The Blue Zones Project delivers best practices and strategy for making healthy choices easier. Think changes in work sites, schools, restaurants, grocery stores and in community policies. The project also encourages people to make small, simple changes to their daily routines — taking from the habits of the world’s longest-living people.

What’s next?

A Blue Zones site visit will take place by Buettner’s company, Healthways, in Ontario County in April.

Blue Zones staff will assess demographic and health indicators in the county, and conduct a leadership summit and community focus groups. Be on the lookout for details of a kickoff meeting to be held April 24 to learn more.

"This really will be a communitywide initiative," Polimeni said. "This is a great place to live, and we can make it even healthier."