Fort Worth’s walking Moais are part of Blue Zones, a national wellness organization started by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow. He identified and studied five places in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives: Okinawa; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Lomo Linda, Calif. He dubbed the areas “blue zones.” It built upon work by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, who studied the high concentration of centenarians in Sardinia. Buettner and a team of researchers have studied the blue zones to better understand habits that contribute to happiness and longevity.

In Japan, average life expectancy is the world’s highest at 84.1 years for men and 87.1 years for women, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s about five years longer than in the United States.

Social connection was one of the common factors that researchers found in the blue zones. People who live in the regions tended to have friends or belong to groups that modeled healthy behaviors, such as exercising, eating healthy and not smoking. In Okinawa, those social groups took the form of Moais.

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The Burrells walk for 30 to 40 minutes on Sunday nights in Lake Como, a historically black neighborhood on the west side of Fort Worth. The walking group’s members span from age 10 to 92.

“It’s an opportunity for us to engage with some young people because we’re old,” Elouise says. “Their minds are fresh, and they give me another perspective.”

Body and soul

Across town, Fulmer meets her Moai, ranging from three to seven people, each weekday at 7 a.m. Fulmer used to have an achy hip. When she’d step, her knees sometimes felt like they’d buckle. She says the pain has gone away since she began the regular walks about five years ago.

On walks, they talk about plans for the day ahead, she says. Sometimes they share recommendations for a trusted handyman or think aloud about a big decision, such as a car purchase. And they support each other through life’s challenges, Fulmer said. Two Moai members have coped with the deaths of their mothers.

But Fulmer says the walks are full of lighter moments, too. They used to regularly spot a neighbor’s chickens escaping the yard. Ruby, Fulmer’s 7-year-old miniature pinscher-Chihuahua mix, has become one of the Moai’s most enthusiastic members.

Of course, Fulmer hopes the walks are adding years to her life. But the top health benefit she’s certain of: Walking with her friends makes life more fun.

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