Joyt Gray Uses the Power 9 to Move Herself and Her Community's Health Forward.

Joyt Gray is a living, breathing, moving embodiment of the Blue Zones Power 9 principles for longevity. People who live in Blue Zones areas have improved the quality of their lives by putting simple principles into practice, like adding more steps into their days, and by finding the right social network – called Right Tribe. Gray is passionate about getting more steps in her day and promoting better well-being in her community. She was an organizer and participant in a Walking Moai in her Como community last year, and is also passionate about GirlTrek, a national organization which aims to rally a million African American women to get out and walk.

“Our African American community is in need of a major health overhaul,” she said. “If there’s any way to encourage all communities to get out and be healthy, I’m all for it.” She walks with her Blue Zones Right Tribes every day. Her local tribe of GirlTrek ladies walk on Saturday mornings. “When we walk, it can be six miles or 14, depending on if we want to walk to Fort Worth from Bryant Irvin and have a healthy brunch,” she said. She says walking with her friends gives the group accountability. “Everyone’s expecting you to be ready, so it’s important to go.”

And she doesn’t just stick to the trails. “I am happy to say I participated in my first Cowtown 5K in 2020 and placed 12th out of 79 ladies in my age bracket. It was great fun to walk with my husband and GirlTrek team member Babette Haines,” she said.

Gray realizes not everyone has the desire or ability to clock that kind of mileage but says any step is a step in the right direction. Even walking 30 minutes a day has been shown to strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance in women. Walking can also reduce the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers.

For Gray, walking is meditative, putting Down Shift, another Power 9 principle, into play. “It is a time to clear your mind, strengthen your body, refresh your soul through prayer and get some good fellowship and laughter through your fellow walkers,” she said. “It beats depression!”

Walking also helps Gray connect with her husband, reinforcing the principle of Family First. “My mornings typically start with a three-mile walk with my husband Gary around Candleridge Lake,” she said. “Sunday mornings are my ‘couples walk’ with my husband and friends from our church.” Gray and her tribe have scouted out new parks from Mineral Wells State to Bear Creek Trails.

Gray credits her mother, who was a dietician and nutritionist, and her father, who played football at Kansas State and later became a YMCA director in the upper Midwest, for their example of a healthy lifestyle. “I grew up encouraged to eat right and exercise,” she said. To that end, she tries to focus on fresh fruits and vegetables – what Blue Zones calls eating with a Plant Slant – and also subscribes to the Power 9 principle of 80% Rule so that she doesn’t overeat. As Gray says, part of the struggle is about discipline and “pushing away from the table.” Go easy on the salt and processed foods and “don’t let your eyes fill your stomach.”

Purpose and giving back is another important Power 9 focus for Gray and her husband. She is an active member of the Lake Como Wellness Council, established by the Lake Como Neighborhood Advisory  Council to promote better health and well-being and implement Blue Zones Project best practices in the community. He is the director of the new Lake Como Hope Farm, a faith-based leadership program that focuses on the needs of young men growing up without father figures.

And because health runs (literally) in her family, both children Jarryd and Gabrielle are athletes. “We are the proud parents of a track scholarship Captain alumni from Prairie View AM and a Girls Volleyball scholarship alumni from Texas Southern University in Houston,” she said. Both schools are historically Black universities. There are 107 HBCUs which were established before the 1964 landmark Civil Rights Act, including Howard University, Spellman College, and Wiley College in Marshall, TX. “It takes a village to raise a child,” Gray said, “and HBCUs raise their alumni to give back to their communities.” She’s glad to report that both her children have found their own Right Tribes through the traditions of their colleges.

When it comes to the health of her community, Gray speaks with the authority of everyone’s favorite aunt. “Walk with your children,” she said. “Walk with your parents or grandparents. It’s the small changes to diet and making a sedentary lifestyle a little more active that will produce an increase in overall health.”

There’s certainly power in that!