Photo by Neita Cecil
Marielle Kowaleski of Underwood studies a list of upcoming events for the Blue Zones Project at the inaugural “Friends at Five,” social get-together Tuesday. Blue Zones is a three-year community wellness endeavor that places a heavy emphasis on the health benefits of socializing. The next Blue Zones social event is Tuesday, March 13, for a walking group, which will start 5 p.m. at the organization’s office at 3591 Klindt Dr.
Marielle Kowaleski is newish to the Gorge, having moved here two years ago, and she dropped in on the Blue Zones Project’s inaugural “Friends at Five” event to socialize.
The get-together at the Blue Zones office on Klindt Drive, which is open to anyone who wishes to attend, drew just a handful of people, but Kowaleski was glad she came.
She’s also planning to check out the inaugural walking moai (pronounced mow-eye) next Tuesday, March 13, which will start at the Klindt Drive office, just steps from the Riverfront Trail.
The Blue Zones Project The Dalles, a three-year effort to boost community wellbeing, hopes that enough people come to the walking moai that it can be divided into smaller groups for those who walk slow, moderate and fast.
Eventually, they want to tailor walking moais to those with strollers, or dogs, or who want to meet at a specific location.
Kowaleski has her own dogs that she walks daily, but she plans to leave them home in Underwood, since they love people, she said, just not other dogs.
Kowaleski heard about the Friends at Five gathering from a friend of a friend. She said she was just looking for people to socialize with and groups to get involved with.
Kowaleski works part-time in Hood River at a beads and crystals store and said she’s got “too much time on my hands” so she wanted to check out other social activities.
She’s going to not only try the walking moai, but also the launch of the potluck moai, set for March 20 at the office, 3591 Klindt Dr. Once she’s tried each of them, she said she’d take it from there and see if she was still interested.
The Friends at Five will occur on the first Tuesday of each month and serve as an opportunity to socialize and learn what Blue Zones events are on offer for the month.
While the walking moai seems on its face to be geared toward exercise, the real purpose, like the Friends at Five gathering, is socializing, said Taylor Smith, engagement lead for Blue Zones in The Dalles.
Blue Zones asks people to commit to 10 weeks of the walking moai, with Smith saying that socializing just for 30 minutes a week for 10 weeks would still give those participants more socializing than many, even most, people get.
The goal is to create a safe space for people to branch out and meet others in the community. It’s also a time to “down shift” and get away from stress, Smith said.
Down shifting is one of the nine habits found in common among five communities where the longest-living people in the world are found. Those communities were dubbed Blue Zones, and the wellness project is aimed at incorporating those habits into communities to boost wellness.
A moai is a Japanese term meaning “meeting for common purpose,” and it refers to the lifelong social support groups found in Okinawa, one of the five Blue Zones where people are unusually long-lived.
Blue Zones works with local communities to help make the healthy choice the easy, default choice, from restaurant menus to grocery stores to transportation.
The organization’s wellbeing efforts have been launched in 42 communities in the U.S. so far, including four in Oregon.
Kowaleski said she was apprehensive at first about going to the gathering. “It said it was for like-minded people, but that can be pretty broad.” But the ideas of walking and doing potlucks and socializing were things she was interested in.
She was also drawn to the idea that the Friends at Five was not alcohol-oriented.
She’s not opposed to drinking, but it’s just not the way she wants to have her social connections.
In fact, Blue Zones officials said they took a cue from citizens who wanted to socialize, but not have it revolve around drinking, and chose to dub it Friends at Five as opposed to “wine at five.”
Blue Zones researchers found having wine daily with friends was a marker of many of the long-lived communities they studied.