ST. GEORGE — A coalition of local education and health entities, as well as the city of St. George, is looking to draw on the power of all the people in Washington County to find out the secret of living healthier longer.
Four entities — Dixie State University, Intermountain Healthcare, the Institute for Continued Learning and the city — launched the survey this week. The study is part of the “Live Long, Live Well” program, which is designed to help Washington County residents ages 50 and over to maximize their health and longevity.
But the survey is not just meant for older adults. The online questionnaire is aimed at all local residents over 18 years old and is designed to gauge the health and wellness needs of Southern Utah residents. The goal of the survey is to find the keys that will cement the St. George area’s status as a place that has some of the healthiest people, and who live longer.
“We can become one of the healthiest, happiest communities in the world,” Rob Kramer, chairman of the Live Long, Live Well program, said. “There’s no reason why we can’t do that.”
As associate provost of community and global engagement at DSU, and the lead researcher on the study the survey will contribute to, Nancy Hauck’s role is to bring the university together with the St. George community. In bringing the university together with the city and Intermountain Healthcare, Hauck is hoping to build something greater: the ultimate well-being of everyone in Washington County, especially those over 50.
“Our objective is to look at the patterns that increase people’s longevity and then implementing solutions if we don’t have some of those things in place, and certainly fortifying what we do have to help the community take action,” Hauck said.
Hauck says it’s a misnomer that health and longevity come only from exercising the muscles of the body. They also come from exercising the brain and emotional well-being. With that, the 10-minute online survey asks questions not only about a person’s physical health but also their cognitive health and social and emotional state.
“The three main pillars are cognitive generativity, physical resiliency and socioemotional connectivity,” Hauck said. “It has to do with choices … how we deal with stress.”
Hauck also had to bring together different pillars of the community and said she got a boost of help from St. George Mayor Jon Pike, who in turn helped to attract other partners with the ultimate goal of giving St. George bragging rights for the longevity of its residents.
Right now, those bragging rights belong to the five cities worldwide that National Geographic calls “blue zones.” The name comes from a team of scientists who looked and found the five healthiest places in the world, then circled them with blue pens on a map. Those cities include Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; the Ogliastra region of Italy; and Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.
The only American city among the five is Loma Linda, California. With the Live Long, Live Well program, Kramer hopes to add St. George to the list.
“St. George has the ingredients to be a blue zone,” Kramer, who is director of ICU, said.
The survey was formulated by looking at common characteristics between the five existing blue zones.
“You have to look at diet, making exercise a part of your lifestyle and a close social community,” Kramer said.
While the ultimate goal is to help those over 50 live longer, the study is aiming to sample people between 18 and 50 as well. The reason, Hauck says, is simple: The decisions people make early in life can determine their fate in later years.
“How you live for 18 to 50 can impact your health,” Hauck said. “Longevity is not likely if you’re not taking care of yourself from 18 to 50.”
Along with the survey, the Live Long, Live Well program includes the LiVe Well Center at Dixie Regional Medical Center, which provides wellness testing, fitness classes and personal consultation. It also includes free weekly lectures at Dixie State through the ICL that provide all the latest research, particularly on extending your life.
Those classes are also a chance to meet other people, and being social can actually play a role in living longer, Kramer said.
“Diet and exercise are very important, but I would say the two things most important is social and having a purpose in life,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you have to belong to a religious group, you have to identify social groups you can belong to. People you can socialize with on a daily basis and know that someone has your back.”
You are also what you eat, as the saying goes, and the Live Long, Live Well program also has gold, silver and bronze Healthy Habits awards that go to local restaurants determined to have truly healthy menus. Seven restaurants locally have earned that award thus far, the Twisted Noodle on Main Street being the only one to achieve gold status.
“We get a lot of feedback on diet,” Kramer says, who added that the best results he has seen come from the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and nuts as well as fish and poultry and little red meat. “The American diet is one of the worst, especially our obsession with processed food and junk food.”
Along with more healthy eating options, St. George and the surrounding communities of Washington County have opportunities for physical and mental activity as plentiful as places to hike. Now, the people of the community have a chance to bring that all together, and perhaps ultimately get a blue circle marked around them.
“It’s a pretty healthy lot,” Kramer said.
To take the “Live Long, Live Well” survey, click here.
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