Roxanne Martinez saw a problem.
While children in the Diamond Hill North Side Youth Association were at football practice, parents sat, some times in isolation.
Martinez wondered: Why not get them up moving around like their kids?
“It builds bonds and morale,” she said, referring to groups of parents, sometimes as large as 40, walking the track at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School. “You get out there and hear each other’s stories. It’s really built up the community, I think.”
Dubbed “Walking Wednesdays,” the walking group is part of the Blue Zones Project, a nationwide effort to build health lifestyles and well-being.
Fort Worth this past month become the largest certified Blue Zones city in America. That means the city, schools and some employers have committed to encouraging healthier living either through increased exercise, healthier diets or both, Mayor Betsy Price said. It’s also an indication of the city’s quality of life.
“It makes the city vibrant and connects people,” she said. “People are out, talking to their neighbors, going to parks. There’s an element of relaxation.”
To celebrate the designation, a free event 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Will Rogers Memorial Center, 3401 W. Lancaster, will include entertainment, fitness demonstrations, plant-slant snacks and refreshments, kids activities, community volunteer opportunities, and more.
Blue Zones is built off the research of by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and New York Times best-selling author, who identified five cultures with a longer lifespan and higher sense of well-being. Those cultures were all more active, ate healthier and were surrounded by an environment that encouraged healthy lifestyles, said Matt Dufrene, vice president of Blue Zones Project, Fort Worth.
The process to make Fort Worth a Blue Zone city began about five years ago, but has already had an impact.
In 2014 Fort Worth was one of the least healthy cities in America, ranking 185 out of 190 on the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, an annual national health study. Since then Fort Worth residents cut smoking by 31 percent and started excising 17 percent more.
“That shows we’re doing something right in Fort Worth,” Dufrene said.
At the city level, planners focus on “complete streets” that make it safer for bikes and cars to share the road, side walks that encourage walking and improving parks and trail amenities, Price said.
Those infrastructure changes are good for health but also good for economic development. Mixed-use developments such as West 7th encourage walkablility. Businesses also see reduced costs.
“It makes Fort Worth much more appealing for businesses,” Price said. “Healthy workers cut health care costs and are more productive.”
At restaurants, 66 in Fort Worth, dinners will find expanded health foods. At the 20 grocery stories, health foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, are featured more prominently and in some cases the candy in the checkout aisle has been replaced with healthy grab-and-go options like bananas.
“Parents love going to the Blue Zone checkout line because they don’t have to worry about their kids asking for candy,” Dufrene said.
For the 131 Fort Worth employers taking part, including large companies like Texas Health Resources and Lockheed Martin, employees are encouraged to take the stairs or park further away so they walk more. Some places encourage walking meetings and have revamped cafeteria food offerings, he said.
Fort Worth schools are also encouraging more movement throughout the day and providing health food options.
For Martinez, who helped develop Spanish-language information for Blue Zones, retooling nutritional information has also had an impact.
She saw a lot of parents bringing chips and sugar-based drinks to the Diamond Hill-Jarvis practice. Her first presentation on nutrition was centered on their children‘s performance on the field.
“I wanted to give the resources in a format that fits our culture,” she said. “I knew parents would be willing to make healthy choices if it was in a format tailored to them”