Created: 07/16/2014 10:45 PM KAALtv.com
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- In 2009, Albert Lea sparked a new national trend when it became the first city to participate in the Blue Zones vitality program.
The Blue Zones Project helps improve health and wellness in communities, and five years later program officials are back in town to help the city continue its progress.
On Wednesday night, city leaders announced a new chapter in the city's Blue Zones Project history.
Starting next month, wellness experts will once again bring knowledge and resources to help the city increase well-being for its residents.
"We've really been carrying this through for a long time,” said Vern Rasmussen, mayor of Albert Lea. “But this gives it a very renewed energy to really see this city come together again and really gives us the finances with which we can make some really big successes."
In 2009, Albert Lea set the standard for the Blue Zones Project, increasing life expectancy by 2.9 years and decreasing healthcare costs by implementing a number of lasting health and wellness projects.
"Five miles of built sidewalk gaps, the bike lane, healthy snack carts, disc golf courses, I mean, just one thing after another,” said Ellen Kehr, lead organizer for the project in Albert Lea.
This time around, leaders said they want to renew successful projects from 2009, as well as get restaurants, schools, and companies to commit to making a difference and create a common purpose for residents, much like they did five years ago.
"You're really seeing a lot of people coming together, meeting, talking, walking, looking at different alternatives of lifestyles as far as healthy living,” Rasmussen said. “It really created a buzz within our community."
While specific projects have not yet been determined, leaders said it's all about keeping people happy and health for years to come.
"What they gave us is vision, so now we want to build on our successes and go further and further and further,” Kehr said. “Because vision doesn't end, it just grows."
The new program will officially start on August 1st and go for one year, with city leaders hoping to achieve full certification under the new project guidelines.