Data shows benefits of Villages lifestyle

Holly Dates, center, of the Village of Gilchrist, leads members of the Sumter Landing Bicycle Club as they prepare to leave the Barnes & Noble parking lot for their rides through The Villages.

Villagers on average grew a little older than the rest of the nation in 2019, but not by much. They’re also part of a community where residents are more likely to be married than anyplace else in the nation. Residents also are among the nation’s most educated. And families in The Villages metropolitan statistical area have one of the lowest poverty rates in the country. Those are key findings researchers at the U.S. Census Bureau found in the new five-year American Community Survey, the gold standard for measuring the population. Each of those measures combined to benefit from the healthy lifestyle available in The Villages, said Dr. Jeffrey Lowenkron, chief medical officer at The Villages Health, the community’s primary and specialty health care provider that staffs more than 60 physicians and serves more than 52,000 patients.

“Social connectedness, higher education and low poverty are all potential social determinants of health, which are getting a lot of attention across the country,” he said. “These measures, being higher, should contribute to better health outcomes in The Villages for older adults matched for age, gender and illness.”

Those measures also complement The Villages increasing prominence as America’s healthiest hometown, not only through The Villages Health but the community’s growing partnership with UF Health, he said. UF Health not only manages UF Health The Villages Hospital but plans to build a second acute-care hospital in the community.

“The only contributor proven in the medical literature to promote better health outcomes that is missing from this list is getting all the doctors who care for the patients to work together,” Lowenkron said. “Fortunately, there are options available in The Villages to combat the current fragmentation of care often seen elsewhere today that worsens outcomes for older adults.”

Researchers calculated The Villages median age in 2019 at 67.4 years, a year-over-year increase of only four months. That’s 8.3 years more than the MSA with the second-highest median age, Punta Gorda at 59.1 years. It also exceeds the state median of 42.4 years and the national age at 38.5 years.

Count John Becker, of the Village of Dunedin, among 17,948 residents between ages 65-69 in The Villages, according to the new Census data. In fact, the former U.S. Postal Service employee from Iowa City is 67.3 years old , just a month off of the median count.

The allure of the community’s active adult lifestyle, particularly golf, motivated Becker and his wife, Karen, to buy a home first in 2012 in the Village of Lake Deaton and then an upgrade at Dunedin.

When they’re not golfing, Becker said he and his wife enjoy a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity and social connectedness. He plays pickleball; she walks 5 miles a day.

“We socialize with a lot of neighbors,” Becker said.

The possibility that the active adult lifestyle might enhance life expectancy intrigues Becker.

“I’m not sure it is, but it certainly can’t be hurting,” he said.

The social connectedness is one intangible measure that certainly intrigues Lowenkron.

On the surface, residents of The Villages are no different than anyplace else when it comes to the development of physical ailments, he said.

But there is a big difference in aging in America’s healthiest hometown, Lowenkron said.

The Villages is one of the most socially connected communities anywhere, as proven eight years ago in a health survey conducted by researchers at the University of Florida Morsani College of Medicine in Tampa, he said. It is considered one of the nation’s largest health surveys.

“The main difference in The Villages was the social cohesion score,” Lowenkron said. “It’s the highest they’ve ever seen. The social connection here is much better than elsewhere.”

One thing accounts for that social cohesion score, he said.

“The driver of the social cohesion is the physical design of The Villages,” Lowenkron said. “That connectedness blocks out the effect of the isolation that other populations experience. They have a lot of opportunities to connect with people, and a lot of that is because of all the different social clubs.”

That design also factors in how recreation centers contribute to health and wellness, he said.

“On the flip side, it is critical to think about how The Villages is built,” Lowenkron said. “In most active adult communities, the builder is just selling houses. When they sell enough, they put in a recreation center. In The Villages, the recreation centers are already there for the residents.”

Another good example of how residents connect is at the neighborhood postal centers, he said.

“There is a central location they have to go to get mail,” Lowenkron said. “So residents connect there socially.”

From his years of work in The Villages, Lowenkron also formed a definite perception about the outcome of this connectedness and how it enhances the healthy adult lifestyle.

“People in The Villages care about each other, which is a lot different from many other communities,” he said.

Residents know that The Villages’ active adult lifestyle enhances their lives, said John Rohan, who will have served 28 years next April as The Villages director of recreation and parks.

“Our residents understand and embrace the value and benefits of living a life that focuses on health, socializing, participation and living life to the fullest,” he said. “This synergy allows residents to feed off this positive way of life.”

The Villages’ ranking as the population with the sixth-highest educational attainment explains the success of programs like the Enrichment Academy, the community adult-education program, and the phenomenal growth of the resident lifestyle clubs, Rohan said.

“Our residents are active and living healthy lifestyles,” Rohan said. “This is also evident in their continued pursuits to enrich their learning, and educational opportunities through the successful TEA programs, and the associated resident lifestyle clubs offered at their recreation centers.”

Specialty Editor David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.