Our region is ranked No. 1 for retirees for a reason.
It does not strain credibility to suggest the Sarasota region is a retiree’s paradise.
Just look around. We’ve got the best beaches — No. 1 in America at Siesta Key. We’ve got a world-class arts and entertainment scene, and a culinary landscape that can make a gastronomic guru swoon.
Add in a heavy dose of education, fitness, social and volunteer opportunities, and you can see why the population in our area is aging well in paradise.
So it shouldn’t be a shock to learn that WalletHub, a personal finance website known for its consumer tools, ranks Sarasota the No. 1 city in all of Florida — out of 111 it listed — for retirees.
“Sarasota is vibrant for people who are getting older, and the arts has a very big role in it,” said Richard Pelton, the advisory board co-chairman at the Paradise Center on Longboat Key. “The history of the arts in Sarasota has created a culture that people want to participate in.”
WalletHub’s calculus ranged from the cost of living to the number of health care facilities per capita and the number of attractions available. Bradenton ranked No. 10.
“Sarasota has almost all of the advantages of a big city, but almost none of the disadvantages,” Pelton said. “Except for three months a year, traffic is simple. It’s convenient. People feel safe here.”
U.S. News & World Report took it a step further and named Sarasota the No. 1 place to retire in the U.S. for 2018. Seven other Florida cities — Daytona Beach, Fort Myers, Orlando, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Tampa and Miami — placed in the top 35.
With a full-time population in the Sarasota Metropolitan Statistical Area — Bradenton, Sarasota and Venice — nearing 800,000, according to the Census Bureau, about 470,000 are age 62 or older. During snowbird season, that number jumps by about 80,000, the most recent data show.
So what are all these seniors in paradise doing to keep themselves happy, healthy and fulfilled?
“When you first come in, it’s like you’ve got to figure this place out,” said Bob Carlson, president of the board of SunCoast Alliance for Lifelong Learning, who moved to the area with his wife from Vermont in 1997. “We looked into the theater because we like theater. We like music, so we looked into music, and, of course, the Ringling Museum and other notable organizations.”
But Carlson said he wanted more out of his life in paradise. So he connected with Pierian Springs Academy and ultimately was recruited to be its director.
“My goal in life is to create education opportunities,” he said. “I am a strong believer that we are endowed with this wonderful gift of curiosity. It leads in so many directions, so many different passions that we engage in. I love seeing that happen.
“I think we can make it easier for people to find out what’s going on and reinforce the good things that organizations are already doing by giving them some recognition,” he said.
Beyond continuing education opportunities at one of the numerous colleges and universities in the area — Ringling College of Art and Design, New College of Florida, State College of Florida Manatee Sarasota and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, to name but a few — seasonal visitors and residents are offered boundless chances to be involved socially. It doesn’t matter if it’s in an organized setting like the Paradise Center or one of the myriad society events, there’s always something to do.
“Studies keep showing how important it is not just to combat depression or help prevent it, but that it’s for brain health because you need to be interacting with other human beings and doing things to keep your brain working and moving and healthy,” said Suzy Brenner, executive director of The Paradise Center, a Longboat Key mainstay for community engagement, education, referrals and health and wellness classes.
If you can’t find a health and wellness class that fits your style, our region is naturally blessed with an environment that invites people to explore the great outdoors. All you have to do is walk outside.
Seventy-year-old Longboater Mac Spitzer should know. She’s an acolyte for healthy living.
“I love my morning walks when I’m alone because I can either not think, I can analyze, I can see what needs to be done, or (think about) what I want to do, or where I want to go with my life,” she said.
Her advice is simple: Keep moving.
For Lakewood Ranch’s Mickey Quinn, it’s even easier.
“Everyday, having a laugh — that is the fountain of youth, that is how you stay young,” the 85-year-old said. “I'm just happy to be alive. Going out and talking to people, seeing them laugh, they're alive, too — that’s what keeps me going."