Best Healthy Places to Retire: Bella Vista, Arkansas

They don't force you to play golf here, but you might want to buy some clubs just in case.

Dick and Jan Beck enjoy golf in Bella Vista—and a fairway view from their dream house.

Dick and Jan Beck enjoy golf in Bella Vista—and a fairway view from their dream house.

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Shirley Borhauer is no Ponce de León, but the retired school nurse from Chicago seems to be the one who discovered the Fountain of Youth. On a hot August day, she's wearing a charismatic smile and a black swimsuit, ready for a dive into one of three swimming pool complexes in the retirement community of Bella Vista, Ark. She's here at least every other day—when she's not on one of the town's seven 18-hole golf courses or three walking trails. Then again, she could also be on the eight tennis courts, or fishing and boating on the eight stocked lakes, or exercising in the two recreation centers.

Borhauer, 81, thinks living in this idyllic village set among the trees and bluffs of the Ozark Mountains has "added 10 years to our lives." In Bella Vista, it's not uncommon to see a 75-year-old working out with a tennis pro or to hear that your 90-year-old neighbor just bought a new set of golf clubs. Enter the Branchwood recreation center, and you see a bulletin board overloaded with fliers for activities and clubs. Enroll in dance classes. Join the Ozark Hill Hikers, the Bella Vista Men's Chorus, or the Cycle Riders. Competitive senior softball teams tour the region, and swimmers race in the Senior Olympics. For a slower pace, you can join bowling leagues, book clubs, bridge clubs, and bingo nights.

Bella Vista was once a speck of a resort town, but developer John Cooper saw its promise in the 1960s and transformed it into a planned retirement community catering to the denizens of the snowy upper Midwest. The main attraction? Recreation, particularly golf. Today, about 24,000 people, with a median age of 61, live here, enjoying Arkansas's mild winters, recreational offerings, and reasonable cost of living. A low property owners' fee helps pay for all the golf courses and other facilities and gives the residents low-cost and nearly exclusive access (guests are welcome but pay quite a bit more) to what Bella Vista has to offer.

"Too good." Retired accountant and Kansas native Tom Pyle, 61, considered ritzier places in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas when retiring a decade ago. Arkansas was last on the list. He and his wife, Biddy, came through on a Saturday, and they bought a place on Sunday. "The economics are too good," Pyle says as he heads to the practice green of the Bella Vista Country Club. The lifestyle isn't bad, either. "People play golf in Bella Vista until they can barely walk," he cracks.

Count Dick and Jan Beck of Decatur, Ill., among them. With a red golf cart out front and a scenic view of the 15th fairway of the Highlands Golf Course out back, their house on a bluff "was our dream, and we finally accomplished it," Dick Beck, 69, says. The two say they will golf till they drop. That's a common sentiment in this retirement town where no one seems to tire. Or want to go anywhere else. "The only way I'll leave," Jan Beck, 64, says, "is feet first."