Best Healthy Places to Retire: Green Valley, Arizona

Oh, it's hot, all right. But there's plenty more to do in this senior haven than just sweat.

The desert climate suits the Green Valley Aquabelles synchronized swim club.

The desert climate suits the Green Valley Aquabelles synchronized swim club.

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Head 25 miles south of Tucson, Ariz., through desert plains tufted with sagebrush and cactus, car engine humming along at the 75-mph speed limit, past the chalky towers of the "white dove of the desert"—the San Xavier del Bac Mission—and you'll reach Green Valley, halfway to the Mexican border.

The community is literally a breath of fresh air for antsy retirees like Jim Jennings. Jennings, 66, and his wife, Sherry, 64, were enticed by the health benefits of the warm, dry climate. But Green Valley's bulging calendar of activities has proved the surprise reward for the couple. "We always questioned as we got closer to retirement: Is there going to be enough there for us to do?" Jennings says. "And believe me, that has never been an issue out here." There's a multitude of church activities, clubs and organizations, community college classes, concerts, and dance classes in a light-filled performing arts space (designed by architect Antoine Predock). Oh, yeah, there are also eight 18-hole golf courses.

Fitness. But the real lifeblood of the community is Green Valley Recreation, the nonprofit that operates a dozen local recreation centers with a mix of woodworking shops, tennis and racquetball courts, art galleries, computer labs, catering kitchens, and fitness centers. Residents like Phil Silvers come for the 12 heated lap pools. Silvers, a Rotary International board member, swims at least a quarter of a mile every day on his back to fulfill his doctor's prescription for sciatica and stay healthy.

Green Valley comprises about 70 homeowners associations that are mostly age restricted—each home must have an occupant 55 or older and no long-term occupants 18 or younger. The tidy ranch homes on xeriscaped (low-irrigation) lots require little upkeep. Even better, a local volunteer group checks on homes left empty by vacationers or snowbirds, so retirees can jet to Europe worry free.

When it comes to healthcare, Green Valley has primary and acute care, specialists, and EMT services that shuttle residents to hospitals in Tucson. Within Green Valley, La Posada, a sprawling continuous-care facility, offers independent living, assisted living, and memory care for patients with dementia or Alzheimer's.

Residents in good health head for hikes in Madera Canyon, take visitors shopping in the artists' outpost of Tubac, tour the Titan Missile Museum, or view stars at nearby observatories. While Green Valley isn't flashy, that's a positive for most. This community has two kinds of residents—the ones who can't say enough about their new hometown and the others, who are tight-lipped guardians of their secret Arizona spot. We hope they won't mind a little sharing.