Community efforts are essential to individual longevity
September 13, 2018
By Lauren Glendenning
Editors note: This content is sponsored by Health Partnership Serving Northwest Colorado
Health Partnership Serving Northwest Colorado hopes to improve the overall health and longevity of every resident in the region
In Northwest Colorado, there's a coalition of health and wellness providers looking to create opportunities that allow people to thrive and be their healthiest selves.
Aging is unavoidable, but it doesn't have to be scary. With the right lifestyle choices and focus personal well being, aging can also open the door for people to become their best.
"One thing we struggle with here in the mountains — yes, we're outdoors and we do a lot of fun things — but for the majority of people, downshifting is a hard thing to do," said Ken Davis, Executive Director of Health Partnership Serving Northwest Colorado. "It's hard to slow ourselves down and reflect and reduce some of the stress cortisol that comes with that go-go-go mentality."
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Health Partnership Serving Northwest Colorado is working with a variety of partners in the region to help educate local communities about the principles that help people live long and healthy lives. Part of the inspiration comes from the Blue Zones research that found the world's longest living populations have nine things in common, known as the Power 9®: They move, have a sense of belonging, enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day, eat more vegetables than animal products, downshift from life's stresses, have a sense of purpose, stop eating when they're about 80 percent full, and surround themselves with others who practice these habits.
"The more we can do to instill those qualities of the Power 9® as individuals and agencies, I believe it will trickle out into what people are experiencing at the community level," said Stephanie Monahan, Regional Health Connector at Health Partnership Serving Northwest Colorado. "We're all in this together — all of our community partners have a huge role to play in changing the environment here for our residents to thrive."
Partnering for change
The Northwest Colorado region that the partnership serves is vast and diverse. It serves Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Jackson and Grand Counties to improve health care systems, support and expand access to care and to leverage data that will help improve care. In order to accomplish this, the partnership’s staff focuses on caring for themselves so they're able to care for others, Monahan said.
"We're dealing with complex clients who are working to navigate the system — we want to make sure we're taking care of our team members so they can maintain positive attitudes," she said. "One of the things we have is an internal wellness program that focuses on things like being mindful, exercise, downshifting and other practices that you can relate back to the Blue Zones principles."
Sharing this with the other agencies involved in the partnership helps spread this knowledge throughout the communities it serves. People who might come in with a bit of skepticism have been pleasantly surprised, Monahan said.
Last year, the partnership hosted a yoga retreat and a lot of partners showed up with skepticism. Many said they could only stay for a little while at the beginning of the day — an excuse to leave early, Monahan later concluded — but nearly everyone stayed until the end.
The partnership is hoping to spread this knowledge about community collaboration as it relates to longevity to anyone and everyone who will listen. Davis said the group would go anywhere it's asked to present.
"We're not too bashful about trying to help," he said. "With enough community support and board approval we would like to go after funding that would allow us to work with the Buetner brothers and bring the Blue Zones community transformation project to our region."
Wellness, not substances
As people age, many experience new physical ailments. A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than 80 percent of the population will experience lower back pain at some point in life, for example.
"It's not uncommon to be prescribed opioid pain medicine when you have severe back pain," Davis said. "If you're getting older and becoming more socially isolated, there's a high risk of abusing those pills." "When you fill those prescriptions, use them as advised and know the risks. Also when you're finished, and if you have some leftover, drop the medicine in the drug drop box at the Sherriff's office so they can be taken out of the community."
While "wine at 5" is one of the Blue Zones principles, Davis said many people in the mountains struggle with alcohol and substance abuse.
"Wine at 5 — I think people can overdo that," he said. "We hear about moderate drinkers in Blue Zones — you shouldn't have more than one or two drinks per day — but that's quite commonly not the case here."
Rather than turning to substances, the partnership hopes to spread better wellness practices that promote optimal mental and physical health. Monahan said the partnership is working on a program called "More PT, less Rx."
"It's really this idea to expose more people, besides just the affluent, to the opportunities of yoga, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, quality nutrition — the types of things we know that are healing," she said. "How can we look at these alternatives to see if we can reduce the need for medicines?"
This also includes educating people about nutrition, such as which foods lead to inflammation in the body, and the risks of taking certain prescription medications.
The partnership hopes that this collective effort to educate the community by teaching positive health and wellness practices will provide the reach that's necessary for success.
"If a person walks out into their community surrounded by unhealthy choices, the likelihood of them to shift their behavior is exponentially harder," Monahan said. "As individuals, we have the power to make choices, but we're human and those choices need to be easy, affordable, and at our fingertips. … For people to thrive at every age, people need to be supported."