When Imagine Durant took off in the community back in 2015, as a project of Durant area leaders with growth plans for the city, one of the three main themes of the organization was a healthy and connected culture.

Since that time, the organization has had many discussions and input from members who live here, city government, county government and local school districts.

Even nonprofit organizations have implanted several growing ideas. Those have included a weekly farmers market on Market Square, and a trails project as well as ordinances for food trucks in town.

After continuing research, the latest initiative is the Blue Zones Project, which shows how a comprehensive wellness initiative could transform the health, connectedness and longevity of community members.

According to Imagine Durant Executive Director Kara Byrd, local personnel looked into the successes that the program has experienced in a lot of other communities throughout the country in recent years. That included touring the Shawnee community, which is the only other Oklahoma city of the 50 nationwide that has instituted the Blue Zones Project.

“It provides a way to make the healthy choice the easy choice for citizens,” Byrd commented. “They have had amazing results in other communities, including Shawnee. That has included health-care costs going down and workforce productivity going up.

“There is also the possibility of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of grants that helps deal with things like the environment. We are just ecstatic to get the Blue Zones Project underway in Durant.”

The Blue Zones Project website lists its objective as helping transform communities across the U.S. into areas where the healthy choice is easy and people live longer with a higher quality of life.

Research shows that having a reason to wake up can help people live up to seven good years longer, the website explains. Through mindfulness and purpose workshops, we teach people how to shed stress, live in the moment and connect with their innate gifts. Then we help them find opportunities to match their passion with commitment to deepen their sense of purpose.

There are basically nine principles involved, titled the “Power 9,” with nine secrets of longevity that improves where we live, work, learn and play to make it easier to get up and move, eat healthy, make new friends, find a reason for being and live longer and better.

“One of the things in Shawnee they have put together with restaurants is a blue zone meal special, which you can’t always find that is plant-based,” stated Byrd. “That doesn’t mean we are trying to take away meat and potatoes, but that’s an option. It’s an alternative to a bacon cheeseburger.

“There’s a lot of people out in their garden every day now with many people cooped up at home, so they are growing more of their own vegetables and fruits.”

Three job positions with the new Blue Zones Project have been offered locally and should be filled soon. The organization usually sends a national team to assess new cities, but that has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The new hires will be doing phone interviews and assessments to get input from school people and what have been successes and challenges,” Byrd added. “We want to get opinions from a lot of different people locally.”

While Shawnee is the only other Blue Zones city in Oklahoma, the closest to Bryan County is Fort Worth, Texas.

The group’s website is bluezonesproject.com. It plans to start a local website once things get rolling within the year.