Think of it as retirement reinvented. As Americans live longer and in better health, all those old retirement clichés seem evermore removed from reality. Long walks on the beach? Hitting the links? Fiddling around the house? Nope, modern retirement can be so much more than that, from triathlons to deep-sea fishing. (OK, and maybe a little golf.)
Of course, to make the most of this next stage of life, you have to be healthy. And whether you practice yoga to heighten your mental acuteness and flexibility, soak up the panoramic views at the highest peak of a hiking trail, or get a rush when a gust of wind hits the sails, where you spend your later years can make all the difference.
To help you get started on the process of finding the healthiest spots to retire (assuming that such a thing is still possible despite the dismal stock market), U.S. News traveled the country and selected 10 editors' picks. These are places way ahead of the healthy living curve—they provide numerous places to exercise, promote strong social support, and encourage healthy lifestyle habits. And each has a little something extra, too.
Between Maine's forest-blanketed mountains and rugged coast lies Portland, with its seemingly endless hiking-and-biking trails and an island-studded Casco Bay, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. Traverse through the desert and you'll find Green Valley, Ariz., which boasts 12 local recreation centers offering a litany of recreational activities, from woodworking shops and computer labs, to tennis, swimming, and bocce ball. For something a bit lighter, Walnut Creek, Calif., might be more your speed, where retirees come together through a love gardening and socializing. Those who beckon to a retirement of boating and world-class game fishing will probably fancy Punta Gorda, Fla.
But our list is just the beginning. Want to search for the retirement spot that best fits your needs? Just go to our 2008 version of our Best Places to Retire search tool. It allows you to sort through more than 2,000 locations throughout the United States according to the criteria that are most important to you, including climate, access to healthcare, cost of living, and recreational choices. You'll end up with a customized list of places with detailed information about each city or town. You can also find more editors' picks of the greenest, brainiest, and outdoorsiest places to retire. We've even got something for golf nuts and the most fanatical of football fans. Finally, we've included favorites submitted by readers, who describe what they find special about their retirement havens.
Now it's no secret that healthy folks tend to live longer, get fewer colds and flues, experience less aches and pains while aging, recover fast from an illness, and are happier mentally and emotionally. "The three prerequisites for well being in the later years are good health, financial security, and social integration," says Victor Marshall, director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institute on Aging. "You want to move to a community that is set up to make it easier for people to get out and walk." Marshall recommends three, 45-minute periods of brisk walking a week. But other activities like yoga, gardening, biking, or even raking leaves can count toward that total.
Staying active and engaged in a healthy community may even help you live longer. "I certainly don't recommend a treadmill or jogging," says Eric Tangalos, a Mayo Clinic physician who specializes in geriatric medicine. "But walking, bicycling, swimming, and Thai-chi especially are great and preserve the joints. You should be sweating." Budding up with a neighbor can produce even better results. "Networks of friends and family and active social engagement are associated with better mental and physical health and lower death rates," says Gene Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University.
There's no better time than retirement to focus on your health. By choosing the best place for a healthy retirement, you can bet you'll look forward to personal fulfillment and a longer life. Oh, and feel free to break some myths along the way.