People living in this city 90 miles south of Minneapolis, became the first in the nation to sign on to the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project - an effort to define what steps need to be taken to increase your life's longevity. With a population that tips the scales at a 60 percent overweight or obesity rate, this health overhaul couldn't come at a better time.
Dan Buettner, the author of "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest", is the brains behind this project. He's well aware that where we live influences how long we'll live.
First, the city laid new sidewalks linking residential areas with schools and shopping centers. Space was also carved out for community gardens and a recreational path around a lake. Creating walking groups, expanding bike paths and even adding windows to the downtown-area buildings are also being considered to re-energise the city.
Next, restaurants changed their menus to offer healthier food options. Public schools reduced snacking opportunities by banning eating in the hallways and sold wreaths for fundraising instead of candy. Volunteers grouped school children into "walking school buses" to escort them to and from school on foot.
The results? Even the residents who weren't initially interested in the changes benefited. In six months participants lost 2.6 pounds and boosted their life expectancy by about 3 years. There were economic benefits, too: health care claims for city and school employees fell for the first time in a decade.
Heart disease costs Americans an estimated $403 billion dollars in 2006. Homes with healthy benefits such as "walkability" have been shown to be worth more on the market. They may even retain their value during the recession.
The lessons learned in Albert Lea, Minnesota could be implemented in public policy across the country if the political will exists. In fact, one team of filmmakers is raising money to make a documentary about re-inventing neighborhoods and cities with health as a focus.
Check the available home listings in Albert Lea - your next home, and improved health, could be a heartbeat away.