Members of Grupo Folklorico Tapatio King City perform during Blue Zones Project Monterey County’s kickoff event in King City on Sunday, celebrating the healthcare initiative’s expansion in the region. (Sean Roney)

KING CITY — Blue Zones Project Monterey County hosted a community-wide event last Sunday to kick off the beginning of King City being the newest location within the healthcare initiative’s expansion into South Monterey County.

“The Blue Zones Project is a countywide well-being initiative that helps make healthy choices easier for everyone in our community, and King City was chosen to become a certified Blue Zones Project city,” Mayor Mike LeBarre said. “When our entire community participates, from our work sites and schools and restaurants and grocery stores, these small changes create huge benefits for all of us.”

Attendees of the Aug. 21 event included numerous families who browsed dozens of booths along the 200 and 300 blocks of Broadway, participated in healthy activities, watched performances and learned how to improve the quality and length of their lives.

“Our environment is set up to encourage unhealthy choices, thinking of things that are quick and fast and easy, instead of thoughtful and mindful and healthy,” said Tiffany DiTullio, executive director of Blue Zones Project Monterey County (BZPMC). “And while we live longer than our previous generations, we live sicker.”

Intern Geovanni Miron (center) helps community members register for a free shirt and scavenger hunt card as they enter the Blue Zones Project kickoff on Sunday. (Sean Roney)

DiTullio said policy and environment changes already implemented in King City included creation of walking maps for the city, optimizing local school lunches, working with schools to hold recess before lunch, increasing diabetes education, creating healthy options at restaurants, changing grocery stores to include more local produce and have healthy snacks rather than candy at the checkout area.

“Right now 50% of Monterey County residents don’t have access to the recommended daily amount of fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said.

La Plaza Bakery was highlighted as the first BZPMC certification for healthy additions to its menu, with DiTullio crediting the business for having all locations certified in the county. LeBarre credited The Cork & Plough and El Compa Grill with working toward their own certification.

Marlene Garibay (left) serves up water infused with lemon, cucumber and strawberry at the La Plaza Bakery booth, which featured healthy food options. (Sean Roney)

“One of the goals of Blue Zones is to encourage restaurants to have one Blue Zone approved dish,” LeBarre said. “Generally, there’s always a vegetarian option, but with this they look at popular dishes and how you make that healthy.”

LeBarre explained he wanted residents to get involved in the city’s journey and learn how they can transform the well-being of those in Monterey County and King City.

“Together we can make our community a healthier, happier place to live, work and play,” he said.

Liz Bailey, aquatic aerobics instructor at King City Recreation Center, took the main stage in one of the first highlighted activities, during which she led a dynamic warm-up workout. She demonstrated multiple moves to get the blood flowing and also noted how people with limited mobility could modify the movements.

King City Recreation Center aquatic aerobics instructor Liz Bailey leads an active warmup, during which guests were invited to get their blood flowing. (Sean Roney)

“Any movement is better than not doing anything at all,” Bailey said of the importance of moving. “It doesn’t have to be a drastic workout. Even getting up out of bed and going for a light walk if you’re a beginner.”

While Bailey showed off multiple moves as a warm-up for an active day, she explained any activity like moving around during a walk or while doing chores is better than sitting down for a prolonged period.

DiTullio went over the history of Blue Zones, with the Monterey County project having started in 2018 as Blue Zones Project Salinas, before sponsors and organizers realized there was a need an interest throughout the entire county.

The project expanded to the peninsula and then countywide in 2021, and this month marks the official beginning of the project in both King City and Gonzales.

Noel Perez reaches the obstacle portion of the bike rodeo area hosted by Ecology Action during the community event in downtown King City. (Sean Roney)

The overall project was sparked in 2005 by National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner, when he published findings that certain areas extended and improved the lives of the communities through healthy practices and mindsets.

A large public event was a necessary step as a kickoff to demonstrate to residents what was in mind with a changed community, DiTullio explained.

The community-wide kickoff for Gonzales took place Aug. 28 at Central Park.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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