After a couple weeks of feeling overwhelmed and even a bit blue in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the U.S., staff members at Penn Yan Central School District received some advice on how to feel better, thanks to Blue Zones; or, more specifically, to a four-week Blue Zones challenge.

Blue Zones are designated areas in the world where people live longer lives and are reported to be the healthiest. Such regions exist in Japan, Italy, Costa Rica, Greece and Loma Linda, California. There may be relatively few Blue Zones in the world, but explorer, journalist and author Dan Buettner — coiner of the term “Blue Zones” — has written multiple books on ways people can live their lives in the manner Blue Zones residents do.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the Finger Lakes area in mid-March and teacher and staff members were feeling anxious, the Penn Yan Wellness Committee used a blueprint based on Blue Zones philosophies to organize a four-week challenge that began in mid-April. Wellness Committee Co-Chair Becki Bailey helped head the project, which was aptly named the Blue Zones Challenge.

“We were hearing the staff was so stressed,” Bailey says. “They were on their computers all day long. They were trying to teach virtually. We wanted to continue to offer things to them while we were away from school. We were wanting to provide an outlook to help them stay a little more centered.”

Bailey says the challenge was an initiative to send staff members information each week, with suggestions on how to make tough times more tolerable. Each of the four weeks was themed according to one of the Blue Zones Power 9 concepts.

The first week’s theme was Eat Wisely.

“People who live the longest eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and have whole plants in their diets,” Bailey says. “They don’t eat meats as frequently. The focus was to increase your vegetables and grains and things like that.”

Week 2 was labeled Move Naturally.

“It’s not that they go to the gym or have a specific exercise routines, but they incorporate exercise into their daily lives,” Bailey says. “They walk everywhere they go. They are physically active. They are not in front of a computer or TV all day or on their smart phones. You think about the old days our parents or grandparents who were active in their everyday life.”

Week 3 was themed Right Tribe and focused on the concept of community.

“It was about being with people who support you and lift you up and are positive,” Bailey explains. “People who have a similar outlook on life and goals and that kind of thing. Family and extended family. That one was a little challenging because of the social distancing. We tried to teach how you can stay connected because it’s so important to not be isolated.”

The final week emphasized Right Outlook.

“It was all about trying to be optimistic and looking at the bright side of things,” Bailey said.

It was also about tuning out the negative and limited intake on the daily news during the shocking early stages of the pandemic.

“You want to know what’s going on in the world but it’s important to not be plugged into the news all day long,” Bailey says. “You need to disconnect. You can’t go to bed after you watch the news all day long and think you are going to sleep well. You will feel agitated. It’s about stepping away from that and finding a balance. Listen to music. Read a book. Do something fun.”

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