MUSCATINE, Iowa — A group of walkers gathered near the Mississippi Harvest statue on Harbor Drive Wednesday afternoon for an hour of walking in the November sun. The walking group is part of the Blue Zone Project, a private-public partnership designed to improve the health and wellbeing of residents in one of 15 Iowa communities.
Muscatine joined the Blue Zone Project in 2013, and since then, more than 63 walking groups have convened at different times.
Jodi Hansen, Muscatine’s Blue Zone Project community lead, said groups— also known as Moais, a Japanese term that means coming together for a common purpose—convene on a semi-regular basis when the weather allows.
“Walking Moais are designed to get people together and get people walking,” she said. “So this is an example today of what we would call ‘walking lunch’, just an open invitation to meet up with your current friends and with your coworkers.”
Hansen said people can also make new friends while walking.
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Jody Riibe said she did just that. When she moved to Muscatine more than three years ago, Riibe, a retired teacher, said she did not know anyone in town.
“I went to the initial Blue Zones meetings and then went to the first organization of the walking moais. Actually that was three years ago and that’s where I made my first friends in Muscatine,” she said.
Riibe met Micki Tripp, who also came to Wednesday’s walk, through the walking groups nearly three years ago.
“It’s nice to just meet other people that I haven’t known before and doing it on a walk is even better,” Tripp said.
“You certainly feel better after walking, even if you don’t feel like starting,” she said.
Hansen said walking groups can help people get in the habit of walking for exercise.
“So what we like to see is groups that meet today [and] they continue walking,” she said.
Walkers are encouraged to walk as little or as much as they want and at their own pace. And conversations are always welcome. In fact, Hansen said, enhancing social connectedness is one way to reduce stress and improve well-being.
Coworkers Janet Morrow and Susan Fulton of the Muscatine Chamber of Commerce came to the walk together.
“There’s no reason to not be out here walking today in the sun,” Morrow said.
“Walking always makes you feel better,” Fulton said. “Especially on a beautiful day. It’s very good for your soul.”
“We’re very fortunate to have this beautiful place to walk,” she added.
Enticing people to walk through beauty and function is another aspect of the Blue Zone. Since the project’s inception, the city added new sidewalks and constructed new walking trails. The trick, Hansen said, is to promote “moving naturally” by widening sidewalks and adding places to walk to.
Many facets of the project fit so seamlessly in the fabric of the city that they are almost invisible. But the outcomes are anything but invisible. A Gallup-Healthways Well-Being survey showed that Muscatine residents are walking more, exercising more, and their stress levels have decreased.
Anyone interested in finding a walking group can contact Jody Hansen at 263-8895 or at email@example.com.