Best Healthy Places to Retire: Reston, Virginia

Yes, it's a planned community. But it's one full of surprises and unexpected amenities.

Reston's Lake Anne and its geese catch the eye of both human and canine residents.

Reston's Lake Anne and its geese catch the eye of both human and canine residents.

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Reston's creator, Robert E. Simon (RES-ton), says the town he founded in Fairfax County, Va., is supposed to be, if nothing else, "a collection of all the wonderful things about living." It's a high claim that the planned community seems to do a pretty good job living up to.

The town, about 20 miles from Washington, is Simon's 1960s brainchild, designed to encourage human interaction and whimsy. The European-style plazas foster socializing, outdoor concerts, and farmers' markets in the summer. Over 50 miles of paved walking paths, which weave behind houses, through woods, and under roads, make the entire town pedestrian-accessible. At the old Reston town center, Lake Anne Plaza, townhouses sit atop restaurants and stores, each with a garden on the roof. Its unique layout and amenities also make it one of the most healthful places to retire—Simon himself, still sprightly at 94, lives there.

As you wander through, you are likely to pass one of the many sports facilities that all residents of Reston can use free of charge as members of the unusual homeowners association that governs the town. "It's like being a member of a country club, except you're not part of a club; you're part of a community," says Roger Lowen, a 76-year-old triathlete who has lived in Reston since 1988.

Lowen, who ran marathons in his youth, balked seven years ago when his children suggested he take up triathlons. "I hadn't biked since I was 18 and I couldn't swim," he explains. But now he has completed several triathlons and is the oldest person to complete the annual Reston Triathlon—thanks in part to the town's recreation-friendly layout. "The fact that there are so many pools around here, and the fact that I could step outside of my house and 100 yards away there is a running trail, and the fact that I'm only a few miles from a 100-mile bike trail, made training very easy," says Lowen.

Sports are not the only activities in Reston. The townsfolk also mingle at two community centers, art galleries, Reston's 300-seat theater, and the near-by Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (4 miles away). "I don't have any family to speak of, but I've accumulated a lot of friends here. It's important for old people to see old familiar faces," says Robert Webb, 76, a retired newspaper editor.

Getting personal. The vibrant art scene isn't just for spectators. The public facilities include two pottery kilns. There are also hands-on classes in almost every medium. Plus, studio space abounds for still-active pros.

Reston has changed much over the years, growing 10-fold since 1970. Sterling Pilette, a 66-year-old defense contractor who has lived in Reston since 1973 and has planned his retirement there, says Reston retains its quaint charm, despite this growth. "To go to the supermarket, I can walk to it, I can bike to it, or I can even boat to it."

That's not what one usually expects from a suburb—but Reston isn't like most suburbs. Lowen even says Reston is "the antidote" to the gated community. "It's a living, breathing community—and you want that in retirement."