Contact project lead:

Cathy Malakowsky
City Hall
221 E. Clark St.
Albert Lea, MN 56007

How to ‘blue zones’ in March: Put loved ones first


In his research of people living to be 100 years old or more, author Dan Buettner found that putting their families first was an important element of healthy living. They tended to marry, have children and build their lives around that family core. Duty to family, ritual and togetherness were hallmarks of their lifestyle.

A sense of family contributes to longevity by grandparents, parents and children reciprocating love and care. Parents care for children and the children return that care as they all age. Families provide a

Making time for friends and family can improve your health by reducing stress, blood pressure and depression.

social network for behavior, goals, purpose and support, especially in times of stress, illness or other problems.

People without extended families, for whatever reason, can achieve a sense of family by building a network of close friends.

Here are some strategies for putting loved ones first, whether a family of relatives or a family of friends:

  • Eat at least one meal a day together. Yes, this can be difficult for families with busy schedules. Try getting up earlier than normal one day a week to enjoy breakfast together. Pack a picnic to eat together in between practices, games and other activities. Sit down to an evening snack and a recap of everyone’s day before heading off to bed. Teach the kids to cook as you make meals, and their help becomes part of the ritual. For more ideas, visit The Family Dinner Project website. For people on their own, seek out a coffee club that meets daily, a church circle that meets monthly, a co-worker group that lunches weekly, or other ways to gather.
  • Plan and take annual vacations together. This could be a fishing trip with college buddies or a week at a remote cabin with extended family. Involve everyone in the planning with each person picking a day to organize an activity or outing.
  • Unplug and connect to each other. When spending time together, turn off the television and put away devices like phones and laptops. Focus on each other and the conversation. Do something fun like playing games or walking around Fountain Lake.
  • Establish rituals. Children thrive on rituals and they provide a sense of belonging for people of all ages. Make an activity “sacred,” in that nothing interferes with it, such as a daily meal, weekly church service, or monthly visit with your grandma or neighbor. Make it a point to purposely celebrate holidays and incorporate traditions such as carrot cake at Easter or watermelon slices on the Fourth of July.
  • Create a shrine to loved ones. Display photos and mementoes of relatives and friends as an enduring reminder of their love and ongoing connections. Be sure to take photos of your traditions and annual vacations.
  • Put loved ones first. Play with your children. Nurture your marriage and friendships. Honor your parents and other relatives.

Local ideas for togetherness

  • Mentor a student. The STARS Mentoring Program has waiting lists of girls and boys, ages 7 -18, seeking mentors. The most important part of being a mentor is simply spending time on a regular basis with a student. Mentors meet individually with students to hang out, do homework, visit the library, play games or do other activities. The program also holds group activities like ice skating, picnics, kayaking, and more. Make a difference and build togetherness by becoming a mentor!
  • Make the library or Senior Center part of your rituals. At Needles, Pins and More, people of ages with small craft projects, such as knitting and crocheting, meet the first Thursday of each month, from 10 – 11:30 a.m., at the Albert Lea Public Library, 221 E. Clark St. The Fountain Lake Readers Book Club meets the second Thursday of the month, at 10 a.m., at the library. The Albert Lea Senior Center for people ages 55 and older, offers coffee, snacks, cards, bingo, trips, classes, service projects and most importantly, companionship. Sign up or visit the center at Skyline Plaza, 1739 W. Main St.
  • Join a service club. Active clubs in Albert Lea include the Moose Lodge, Eagles Club, Daybreaker Kiwanis and Lakeview Lions.
  • Have some fun. Spend time together at a community event or favorite place. Check the Community Calendar or go to Explore Albert Lea for details.

Coming next month

In April, celebrate the impact of Albert Lea’s certification as a Blue Zones community. Learn about the history of Blue Zones and current initiatives at the library’s Bring Your Own Lunch and Learn on Thursday, April 13, in the council chambers on the top floor of City Hall, 221 E. Clark St.