Healthier and Happier: Blue Zones in Walla Walla

April 10, 2019

Have you heard about Blue Zones? They’re places with high concentrations of people over 100, and lower rates of health problems like heart disease, obesity, cancer, or diabetes. The original “Blue Zones” identified by author Dan Buettner in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, include Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; the Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.


The movement has spread, however, with communities around the world working to adopt the lifestyle elements that make these communities so healthy.


The next one might be right here in Washington—a collaboration between the cities of Walla Walla and College Place and Walla Walla County. They’re currently exploring the possibility of becoming a Blue Zone Community. Betsy Robblee and I recently traveled to the area as guests of our friends at the Blue Mountain Land Trust to learn more—and to discuss how the WWRP could help.


A critical element of Blue Zones is a high level of physical activity. I’m not saying all these 100+ year-olds in Okinawa are marathoners. Rather, members of the community are active every day in basic ways. They walk to the grocery. They bike to school. They gather in local parks. They commune with nature via forest bathing. And their communities are built in a way that supports this.


Most American cities are decidedly NOT built in this way. But that doesn’t mean they can’t change. Walla Walla is looking into these possibilities, recognizing that the investments needed are likely to pay off quite quickly in reduced health care costs, increased longevity, and more people visiting and moving to the area for the outstanding quality of life.


Parts are already underway. The Walla Walla community has developed an expansive Blue Mountain Regional Trails Plan, the result of more than 30 local, regional, state and federal stakeholder entities coming together to map out existing trails and identify and prioritize connectors. When complete, the network will include 354 miles of new or improved non‐motorized trails. These trails will provide active commuting opportunities throughout the region—and turn it into a destination for bike touring.


Local parks. Regional Trails. Communing with nature. People getting outdoors, connecting with their community. If this doesn’t sound like a recipe for WWRP success, then I don’t know what does!


We’re excited to watch as the community develops these plans, and whether they move forward as a Blue Zone Community or decide to forge their own path, they are committed to making this beautiful region of Washington a happier and healthier place to be. We look forward to being a partner in the process!