Cedar Falls, Iowa, became a certified Blue Zones Project community in 2014, thanks to the dedicated efforts of Luann Alemao, the former mayor and an involved community. It took more than two years to go through the rigorous process, and the committee still meets regularly to talk about policies and procedures and prepare for recertification in 2017. Alemao also travels around the country as a member of the speaker bureau of Blue Zones, teaching communities about the philosophy and purpose of Blue Zones.

More than two dozen communities across the country have either achieved certification or are going through the process now, says Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones. Once a community expresses interest in earning the designation, the Blue Zones team visits and discusses the process with community leaders. After the city government signs on, they must follow a “menu” of 20 different policies that makes their community a healthier, safer place to live. Goals include increasing bike and pedestrian safety; expanding volunteer opportunities; enhancing employee well-being in the workplace; getting kids to school safely and improving access to fresh, healthy foods.

Scott and Sarah Gall own The Runner’s Flat in Cedar Falls, a specialty store for runners, walkers and other athletes. Their store completed the Blue Zones Project organizational checklist in 2013 in support of their city’s efforts to complete the certification.

“What we really enjoyed about completing the checklist was that it affirmed that we already had many health-focused, earth-focused business practices in place,” says Scott Gall. “But it also allowed us the opportunity to see other areas where we could make simple changes.”

These are permanent changes, Buettner cautions, which is why recertification is necessary. “These designations are for dedicated communities with an appetite for real improvement,” he says. “It can take three to five years, and it’s hard work.”

Gall says the hard work was worth it, though. “We love seeing our Blue Zones community continue to progress and develop in ways that have changed our entire community, from the parents down to the children.”

For more information, visit bluezonesproject.com.