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Big Island Leads Country as First County-Wide Blue Zone


The Big Island is celebrating this weekend. Hawai?i County will become the first county in the United States to receive a Blue Zones designation. The Blue Zones health initiative launched in East and North Hawai?i in 2015, and is already seeing results. HPR's Ku?uwehi Hiraishi reports.

82-year-old Theresa Zendejas of P?hoa lost nearly 50 pounds from embracing the lifestyle changes of the Blue Zones Project.

Credit Blue Zones Project - Big Island
Blue Zones Project - Big Island
82-year-old Theresa Zendejas is one of the Blue Zones Project's most vocal advocates.

"Being heavy, oh man. My back was killing me. Killing me," says Zendejas, "When I started losing the weight, I was able to move."

She planted herself a garden, walks regularly, and tries to convince everyone around her to do the same.

"M-O-V-E. I said you move, you eat healthy, and you gonna live longer and not only this, but you start feeling better about yourself," says Zendejas, "and even my husband said you know, 'Honey, you have a waistline now!'”

Kirstin Kahaloa is with Blue Zones and is helping launch the project in West Hawai?i.

Credit Blue Zones Project - Hawaii
Blue Zones Project - Hawaii
Dan Buettner (Right) poses with Maui's Richard Shim who's 85 years were fueled with a daily dose of tofu and 100 push-ups.

"So the Blue Zones Project about 10 years ago was developed by Dan Buettner who as a National Geographic Fellow was asked to travel around the world and find all the places where people were living the longest and healthiest," says Kahaloa.

Credit Blues Zones
Blues Zones
Okinawa, Japan, is home to the longest-living women on earth, according to Buettner's research. Okinawans are active walkers and eat a plant-based diet.

Buettner identified five communities and studied their habits. He circled them on a map with a blue sharpie, hence the name "blue" zones. These were Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California.

Credit Blue Zones
Blue Zones
Residents of Ikaria, Greece, live eight years longer than Americans, have half the rate of heart disease and almost no dementia. Ikarians routinely walk to their neighbor's house or work in their yards.

"So the goal of the Blue Zones Project is to emulate this research," says Kahaloa, "We do free cooking demonstrations so community members can understand how to cook healthy options. We have gardening demonstrations because we want people to you know move naturally in a garden that’s right behind their house or on their porch."

Credit Blue Zones Project - Big Island
Blue Zones Project - Big Island
Cooking demonstrations are offered by Blue Zones Project to help communities learn healthy recipes using fresh produce.

Here's Zendejas. 

"I got food in my yard!" says Zendejas, "I have enough food that I can actually go out into my yard and get whatever I want and either do a salad or do an egg omelet with just what's in my yard."

Credit Blue Zones Project - Big Island
Blue Zones Project - Big Island
Zendejas promoting home gardening at a Blue Zones Project event.

Blue Zones focuses on systemic change at the grassroots level – where people are already living and working. Kahaloa is kicking off the Blue Zones Project in West Hawai?i this weekend at Kona Commons. Hawai?i County Councilman Dru Mamo Kanuha represents Central Kailua-Kona.

Credit Blue Zones Project - Big Island
Blue Zones Project - Big Island
Hawaii County Councilman Dru Mamo Kanuha representing West Hawai'i as the community receives the official Blue Zones designation.

"We host world-class canoe paddling, golf, tennis. We have the ironman triathlon event. You know? Our residents embrace active outdoor recreation," says Councilman Kanuha, "With the Blue Zones Project, we can continue learning and working together to make our island even healthier."

"Being the first county-wide initiative, we’re definitely going to serve as a future model," says Kahaloa, "Hawai?i Island the work that the Blue Zones Project does on this island through communities across the state but also across the country."

"Its not so much living longer with me. I just want to be healthy," says Zendejas, "You know, I just try to say, 'Hey, if an 82-year-old lady can do it,' You know? 'Come on you guys.'"

The Blue Zones Kickoff Event is this Saturday beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the old Sports Authority at Kona Commons.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at
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