Residents working toward a healthy Hawaii

It's as simple as walking together.
Photo: Elyse Butler Mallams

Every wednesday at 4:30 p.m., an enthusiastic group of Kapolei residents gathers near a public library to participate in a “Walking Moai.” Their mission? To get healthier. To get out of their houses. And to get to know their neighbors. The concept of “moai” (Japanese translation: meeting for a common purpose) stems from Okinawa, where social networks and family ties run strong. Kathy Davenport, a team leader who helped to organize Kapolei’s “Walking Moai,” was thrilled to see participants of all ages at the first meeting in February. “We had walkers as young as 11 and some past 70 – we even had dogs,” she says. 

Kapolei residents, however, aren’t the only ones walking the walk. Similar groups are cropping up in local neighborhoods, schools and worksites – thanks to the Blue Zones Project, a global initiative to help people live longer, happier and healthier. In Manoa, Makiki, McCully and Moiliili, Blue Zones Project is teaming up with Bikeshare Hawaii and the Hawaii Bicycling League to organize mobile tours to promote healthier lifestyles.   

In 2015, healthcare group HMSA (Hawaii Medical Service Association) brought the Blue Zones Project to the Aloha State. Today, Blue Zones Project has been adopted by eight neighborhoods on Oahu, Maui and Big Island, and by hundreds of local schools, worksites, grocery stores, restaurants and places of worship. This past January, the Honolulu City Council officially recognized Blue Zones Project Hawaii, a milestone for the growing movement.  

“I’m amazed and grateful for the wonderful work that people are doing across the state of Hawaii to make sure that we have the healthiest and most vibrant communities possible,” says Elisa Yadao, HMSA’s senior vice president and chief communications and community engagement officer. “Our goal is to focus on well-being and health and to work closely with communities – we simply cannot focus [solely] on sickness and diseases.”   

Year after year, nationwide health surveys consistently rank Hawaii among the healthiest in the country – due in part to low rates of smoking and obesity, year-round sunshine, a relaxed culture, high immunization rates and a thriving population of seniors. 

But there is plenty of room for improvement. 

Yadao and her HMSA team have worked closely with Dan Buettner, a best-selling author and founder of Blue Zones, to roll out the program in Hawaii. Buettner’s 2005 cover story, “Secrets of a Long Life,” in National Geographic Magazine, featured the healthy habits of centenarians in five regions of the world: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. 

Although ethnically diverse, the centenarians shared nine traits: They exercised naturally (without gym memberships); woke up every morning with a purpose; knew how to manage stress; stopped eating when they were 80 percent full; ate plant-based diets filled with fresh fruits and vegetables; enjoyed a daily glass of wine with good friends; belonged to faith-based groups; put their families first; and surrounded themselves with positive people. 

If these habits, dubbed the “Power 9,” become the norm for Hawaii, local residents could see their life expectancy increase by up to 12 years. 

“We’re optimistic,” Yadao says. 

Categories: Green Hawaii