Appeal of active life pulling seniors here

Members of the Sumter Landing Bicycle Club leave Bradenton Recreation Center for a 40-mile ride around The Villages and tri-county area.

Sumter County, home to most of The Villages, once again has the highest median age in the United States. But you wouldn’t know it by taking a casual glance. The median age of Sumter County, according to figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, is 68.1 years, up from 67.8 in the numbers released last year at this time. The advancing numbers aren’t reflected in the way Villagers live and play, however. Pickleball, dragon boat racing, softball and, of course, golf are only some of the activities that allow Villages residents to stay young in mind and body. The range of activities available is what draws many to The Villages, and they find that the active lifestyle serves them well.

“I came down here because I wanted the heat and the activity. I wanted this bad,” said Nadine Zastrow of the Village Santo Domingo, who moved here in October.

Zastrow, who at age 68 is right at Sumter County’s median age, regularly plays pickleball, but doesn’t stop there. Tennis, bicycling, dancing and other sports also are on her agenda.

“There’s just so much — you have to hold yourself back,” she said.

Kay Mead, of the Village Hacienda, is one of Zastrow’s pickleball playing partners. She’s also looking to the future.

“As we get older and may not be able to play pickleball, there are other things to do,” she said.

As an example, she and her husband took up golf when the pickleball courts were closed. They hadn’t played before, but then played 45 times in a month and a half, she said.

“It kept us sane,” she said.

It’s not by chance that residents have so many opportunities to stay active.

“The community by design and vision lends itself for residents to live a lifestyle that improves the quality of life,” said John Rohan, director of The Villages Recreation and Parks Department. “Because of the abundance of amenities, people are enjoying things for 10 or 20 years. With age, you’re not doing less, you’re just doing things on another level.”

With 202 pickleball courts, 201 bocce courts, 42 executive golf courses, 15 softball fields and many other amenities, there’s something for every interest.

For those who don’t feel comfortable with more active sports, there are still activities to help maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Thelma Trmal and Fran Graszer closed on their next-door homes in the Village Rio Grande on the same day 27 years ago.

“We have an activity almost every day,” Trmal said. On Wednesday, the neighbors were taking their regular swim exercise class. Other days, ceramics or bingo fill their time.

“You’ve got to move it or lose it,” Graszer said.

It’s all the things that allow people to remain active that draw people here, according to Steve Printz, chairman of the Sumter County Commission and a resident of the Village of Fernandina.

“The lifestyle The Villages offers is oriented to those who want to be active,” he said.

“You do feel younger; you enjoy every day that you have.”

Printz speaks from experience. When he’s not helping to run the county, he’s active in dragon boating, a logical pursuit for the former naval officer.

“I love being on the water, love racing and love the camaraderie,” he said.

The rate of increase in the median age comes from a combination of in-migration and those already in the county getting older, according to Stefan Rayer, population program director at Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Still, the continuous increase over the past several years has been remarkable, he said.

“When you look back at the last census in 2010, the median age was 62.7,” he said. “It has increased almost 5 1/2 years in a nine-year span — that’s a significant increase.”

Rayer said the in-migration is likely to continue as the last of the baby boomers retire, but might slow a bit after that.

Nationally, the percentage of the population over age 65 has increased by a third since 2010. There now are more than 40.5 million people older than 65 in the United States. The national median age is 38.4.

At the other end of the scale from Sumter County, Madison County, Idaho, was the youngest county in the nation with a median age of 23.3 years.

Senior writer Steve Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5228, or steve.straehley@thevillagesmedia.com.