Johanna Determann
Johanna Determann

Gov. Terry Branstad has set a goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation in just five years. The initiative is based on research from the book The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner.

Buettner’s book is based on listening to the stories and studying the lives of people who live in the world’s “blue zones,” or pockets of people who reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States. After a Blue Zones project was successfully implemented in Albert Lea, Minn., Iowa has become the latest place to implement healthy communities known as Blue Zones.

So what is the key to longevity? You might suspect that these centenarians are in top physical health. The truth is they possess not only healthy bodies, but also sound minds and nourished spirits. According to Buettner: “The world’s healthiest, longest-lived people have many things to teach us about living longer, richer lives. If wisdom is the sum of knowledge plus experience, then these individuals possess more wisdom than anyone else.”

What then makes their lives longer and richer? When we think of health, we often think of exercise. But the secret to health and wellness begins with the mind. Wellness is a combination of mind, body and spirit, and the mind plays a much larger role than one might suspect. First and foremost, one must set an intention to lead a healthy and balanced life. When that intention is set, it becomes much easier to accomplish goals related to personal health, relationships and even work satisfaction.

In addition to setting intentions to be well, Buettner emphasizes knowing one’s sense of purpose in life. Your purpose today might be very different from your purpose five years ago, and it will most likely change as you go through different stages of life. Finding your purpose and knowing why you get up in the morning are essential in leading a balanced life. Having a strong sense of purpose is powered by the mind. What is it that you enjoy? What fulfills you? Identify an activity that gives you a sense of purpose at home or in the workplace, and adjust your mindset to stay focused on this purpose. You will be surprised how setting one intention can affect multiple dimensions of your personal well-being.

Research supports that as people get older, meaning trumps money and significance trumps success. Our lives can have meaning and significance if our intentions are set. Now is the time to decide how you want to live the rest of your life. If you want to be healthy, set an intention. Quality of life is a reflection of the decisions that you make. Making intentional decisions based on a keen awareness of how decisions affect life is what will increase your personal well-being. Working together as communities to make Iowa a healthier place in which to live is a worthy and achievable goal. It isn’t just a group effort, however. If we’re going to be the healthiest state in the nation by 2016, what intention can you set today to help contribute to this effort?

Co-authored by Johanna Determann, assistant director of wellness at Drake University and owner of Hello Wellness LLC and Jann Freed, Ph.D., leadership development and change management consultant at The Genysys Group.