Best Healthy Places to Retire: Eden, Prairie, Minnesota

Staying physically fit isn't just for football stars here in the home of Purple Power.

Gary and Nancy Grau make frequent use of Eden Prairie's trails.

Gary and Nancy Grau make frequent use of Eden Prairie's trails.

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Standing poolside at his Eden Prairie, Minn., retirement community, Gary Grau, 75, is cheerfully arguing against the term "senior citizen." "It has an element of finality to it," he says dismissively.

The retired orthodontist exercises almost every day, walking "a marathon a month" with his wife, Nancy, on trails that crisscross this Minneapolis suburb. Most days, he mixes it up with water aerobics or weights, too. "I'll live to be 120," he says.

It's a common sentiment in this former farm town of 60,000. Now a well-off enclave of suburban homes and corporate headquarters, Eden Prairie offers an impressive mix of fitness options in a state that is known for harsh winters and muggy summers.

An early-morning jog begins among office parks and strip malls but soon joins 100 miles of well-maintained trails circling dozens of small lakes and ponds that dot the town. Suburban sprawl quickly yields to long stretches of tranquil greenery interrupted only occasionally by families of wild geese wandering toward the water. "Our parks and trails system is pretty darn nice," says Phil Young, Eden Prairie's mayor and a seven-time marathoner. The city preserves 20 percent of its land for open space; it has 37 parks and 1,000 acres of developed parkland.

The town's hub is Eden Prairie Center, an upscale mall ringed by a jogging path and popular with "mall walkers" during the winter months. Summer events include the Sounds Around Town concert series, Sunbonnet Day, an annual celebration of Eden Prairie history, and the AirExpo air show at Flying Cloud Airport. Nearby Lake Minnetonka is popular for boating, skiing, and, during the winter, ice fishing. For golfers, the county boasts more than 60 public and private courses. Football fans know that the Minnesota Vikings play in Minneapolis at the Metrodome but practice in Eden Prairie's Winter Park.

Eden Prairie has a home-grown fitness tradition, too. Lonna Mosow, recently christened the "grande dame of Minnesota exercise" by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, logs 80-hour weeks as a personal trainer after more than three decades touting her local brand of self-improvement. In her austere, two-story studio, clients ages 40 to 80 take yoga, Gyrotonic, Pilates, and spin classes. Senior discounts are offered. "The older population is fitter than the younger population," Mosow says.

The town is also home to two massive Life Time Fitness centers (the company is based in neighboring Chanhassen). One of the upscale clubs serves up post-workout sashimi or Kobe beef burgers with a glass of organic pinot noir in a restaurant overlooking its tennis center. For a more low-key and less expensive workout, the Eden Prairie Community Center this year finished a $14 million renovation, nearly doubling its size and adding dozens of modern cardio machines. The center also has a lap pool, weights, basketball, and three indoor ice rinks. (This, after all, is hockey country.) About 150 seniors take part in the SilverSneakers Fitness Program, in which participating insurers pay gym membership fees and organize classes.

"We have great community programs and a population that's grown up with fitness," Mosow says. It's a combination that keeps Eden Prairie from seeming anything but senior.