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MINNEAPOLIS - Can investing in employees help a company's bottom line?

That's what the Salo company of Minneapolis wanted to know when they began a six-month "Blue Zones" experiment.

KARE 11first told you about the experiment in February and now the results are in.

The 5 areas identified by Buettner as "Blue Zones" are places on the planet where people tend to live longer, happier lives than the average humans. They include the highlands region of Sardinia, the island of Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan, the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and Loma Linda, California. People in those places routinely live to be 100 or older while retaining vigor.

After Salo completed the experiment, they found the life expectancy of its workers has increased by 2.6 years, according to Dan Buettner, cyclist, explorer and Blue Zones author.

The Salo/Numberworks/Oberon company participated inthe 6-month Blue Zones initiative beginning in September, 2012.

On Tuesday evening, the company management and employees gathered at dinner at the Minikahda Country Club in Minneapolis for the announcement of the "metrics" or measurements of success of the experiment. Buettner has applied his concepts to cities and even the state of Iowa, but never in a corporate setting.

"All we did was take what was successful in communities and brought it in here," said Buettner.

The Blue Zones project began with management and employees signing a voluntary document.

"A pledge," said Buettner, "that had about 40 different little tweaks to the environment that nudged people into eating a little bit less, moving more, socializing more and volunteering more."

Salo is a downtown workplace with desks with treadmills available, pool and table tennis games in the room and a kitchenette for meals, all in the same large, open space. There are separate rooms for meditation, yoga and business conferences (also with treadmills).

Employees are encouraged to share meals, often composed of menus and ingredients found in Buettner's "Blue Zones" from around the globe.

The 5 areas identified by Buettner as "Blue Zones" are places on the planet where people tend to live longer, happier lives than the average humans. They include the highlands region of Sardinia, the island of Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan, the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and Loma Linda, California. People in those places routinely live to be 100 or older while retaining vigor.

"We came in with this rather new idea of eating. It is not a diet. Diets do not work," said Buettner. "It is sort of a 'blue' way of eating: a plant-based diet, nuts and beans. It is not a typical exercise, wellness program. It is really a way of thinking. It is about human contact. We know that the biggest predictor of whether or not you will like you job is if you have a best friend at work."

A key part of the Blue Zones initiative was to group employees into small social units called moias, a way of forcing workers to interconnect. Many Salo participants told Buettner the moia concept was one of their favorite parts of the project.

Buettner told the Tuesday assemblage that they had been "successful in all metrics (measurements)." Group activity increased by 11%. Volunteering increased by 14%, while fast food usage dropped by 50%.

As for the health of the company itself, the results were positive.

"We grew our bottom line revenue 19% year over year during that Blue Zone initiative time frame," said Gwen Martin, founder of Numberworks. "Really, that shows that by investing in your employees and their well being and their engagement can really have an effect on the bottom line and hopefully with health care costs as well."

The company's Human Resources division is to present figures on savings in health care costs in the coming months.

Buettner used a projection screen to point out what he regarded as the most important metric. "Life expectancy went up by 2.6 years and your healthy life expectancy went up by 2.19 (years). What this really means is your chances of getting heart disease, cancer and diabetes have dropped significantly."

Both Buettner and Martin insist the Blue Zones concept can be applied to other companies in other cities.

"Google has now contacted us about Blue Zoning at least one of their campuses in Silicon Valley. So, that is our next stop," said Buettner. "So, it started here in Minnesota and then right on to Google."

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