Cedar Rapids' Blue Zone Project targets unconscious unhealthy habits

I was late hitting the road for my meeting with Will Lenzen, so before I turned on to Interstate 380, I made a quick pit stop at the drive-through, figuring I could eat in the car on my way, and save time.

Itís something I do more often than Iíd like to admit ó usually when my day is too packed to stop for lunch and Iím too rushed or disorganized to have packed one.

Usually, I try to eat healthier. I buy local. Iíve got a big garden. Just try to stop me from eating green beans. I wonít say that if I had all the time in the world, Iíd never eat fast food, but itís rarely a burger-to-go that Iím really after when I hit the drive-through.

Itís just so much easier than other options, like sitting down for a proper lunch or even hitting the supermarket for a sandwich. And if texting and driving is dangerous, try eating a salad behind the wheel. Actually, donít. Iíll probably be on 380 right there alongside you, rushing along to the dayís next thing.

Itís no accident that fast food joints populate on-ramps and exits just as sure as highway signage. When weíre busy, easy can seem the only reasonable choice to make. And thatís the idea behind the Blue Zones project, which officially launches in Cedar Rapids on Monday ó making small changes, especially to our environment, that will make the healthier choices easier.

Weíre so used to thinking our struggles making healthy lifestyle choices are only personal. That itís a matter of will power or knowledge or drive. Of course, thatís part of it. But Lenzen, Cedar Rapidsí Blue Zones Project engagement lead, told me that more often than youíd think, we can encourage healthier behaviors without really having to think about it. Take salt.

Iím sure you know people who salt their food before even tasting it ó itís something theyíre in the habit of doing. Lenzen said just by taking the shakers off the table, making them available at a counter or by request, far fewer people are likely to grab a hold of the shaker. Itís not about taking the salt away, but about shifting that unconscious habit.

Thereís so much that goes on behind the scenes that affects our health and well-being: Restaurants can offer healthier choices on their menus and adjust recipes. Schools can do the same. Employers can offer wellness incentives; cities can make it easier to walk, bike and play. These are just a few of the areas Blue Zones staff and volunteers will be targeting.

Iíve heard some people worry that the Blue Zones Project is some kind of sinister social engineering. Theyíre worried that organizers are trying to take away their freedom of individual choice. You can relax. No oneís trying to take anything away.

When I stop at the drive-through not because thatís what I want to eat but simply because itís the easiest option, is that a choice, exactly? I donít think so.

By making healthier options easier, the end result is that weíve got more to choose from, not less.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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