It’s not often that we see the oldest members of our population weight-lifting, leading groups for a night out, or participating in a marathon. However, such images of happy and healthy centenarians are exactly what the town of Grinnell wishes to make a reality through the initiative of the Blue Zones Project.

Grinnell is one of many places throughout the world that have been designated Blue Zones, locations that foster communities where people not only live longer, but thrive throughout their long life spans due to factors such as superior health, well-balanced diets and an overall sense of happiness. The idea of these Blue Zones has reached national attention through Dan Buettner’s bestselling book, Blue Zones.

“The Blue Zones Project came to Grinnell’s attention as part of Governor Branstad’s Healthiest State Initiative, a plan to raise Iowa’s well-being ranking,” said Jennifer Jacobsen, Wellness Coordinator.

The project aims to choose ten communities—out of over 900—in Iowa that will receive assistance in implementing the lifestyles of citizens in the zones. The Grinnell community wishes to become one of these chosen few.

“The Blue Zones Project is a community by community, business by business movement that will help Iowa communities make a lasting difference in their health and well-being,” said Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.

The Blue Zones began in the neighboring state of Minnesota.

“Albert Lea, MN was the pilot city for creating Blue Zones and they had some good, sustainable, effective ideas such as a walking school bus, community gardens, purpose workshops, workplace policy interventions and local restaurant and grocery store partnerships,” Jacobsen said.

While Albert Lea will be a model for the plans to follow, Grinnell is taking unique steps to attain this designation.

“As part of the application process we need to propose fourteen community volunteer-led initiatives that might build up things we are already doing, such as community gardens, or starting something new—perhaps part of free yoga in the park in the summer,” Jacobsen said.

While there are plans already in motion for the project, Grinnell will not be able to meet the specifications of a Blue Zone without help from the most important part of the equation—the community.

“We are looking for community members’ ideas and enthusiasm to propose initiatives,” Jacobsen said.

While her enthusiasm about the project is clear, Jacobsen highlighted the overall purpose of the movement.

“We do want to emphasize that whether or not we get recognition and external support as a Blue Zone community, we plan to move forward with many of our initiatives,” she said.

Community members can easily take action by simply visiting thebluezoneproject.com and clicking on the “I am a citizen” link. The more citizens that sign up, the higher Grinnell’s ranking will climb. The communities chosen for the first round will be announced in May 2012.