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Leimkuhler: Fitness and fun in Central Florida

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I flew to Florida to visit my parents who moved to The Villages in October to test their snowbird wings. We arrived to find them both happy, healthy and probably more fit than they’ve been in decades, both of them benefiting from a double-digit weight loss as a result of their more active lifestyle.

Their modest, single-story three-bedroom, two-bath home seemed both compact and spacious at the same time. With a sunny front porch and a shady backyard lanai, it is perfect for them; enough to comfortably host visitors, but not too much to take care of.

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Their neighbors are friendly and welcoming, and even their short walk to the dog park can easily become an hour-long event as there are so many people to stop and chat with along the way. The women of The Villages even joke that they can never leave the house without wearing a bra because just walking out the front door to get the mail means they are likely to bump into someone they know — or even someone they don’t know — who will be eager to stop and talk.

In fact, whether we were walking, bike riding, or zipping around in the golf cart, every person we passed smiled and said hello, lending the distinct feeling that The Villages may very well be one of the happiest places on earth. And, why not?

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Enter The Villages — a booming retirement development in north-central Florida that is widely acknowledged as the fastest-growing small city in the U.S.

For the most part, the people who live there have put their working days — and the frigid northern climes — behind them and now have the freedom to experience new things, meet new people and spend all of their sunny days doing exactly whatever they want to do.

As a rule, in the three months since my parents fled to Florida, the temperature in The Villages has typically been about 30 degrees warmer than whatever the mercury is reading in Maryland. The day my daughter and I flew to Florida was the day Carroll County was experiencing an extreme but brief cold snap and the arrival of our first snowfall of the year.

As such, the weather in The Villages on the day we arrived was predictably spring-like; perfect for riding bikes and playing paddleball in shorts and a T-shirt, and zipping up a hoodie if you weren’t.

On our first full day in The Villages we shared with my parents what is likely a typical day for them: coffee on the front porch, a morning walk to the dog park, and a bike ride to the pickleball courts where my daughter and I learned the game and engaged in two hours of vigorous play. Afterward, we went on a long bike ride/golf cart tour of the nearby villages and clubhouses, ending up at Edna’s on the Green just in time for happy hour.

As the name would suggest, Edna’s is a cozy little place nestled alongside a golf course and shaded by massive oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Two food trucks, Edna’s southern-inspired Provisions & Vittles and Rita’s Cocina Mexicana, were stationed in front of the beer and wine bar. With a plate of chips and guac to share, we sipped our beverages while enjoying live acoustic guitar.

Live music is another thing The Villages has going for it. Any night of the week, at any of The Villages’ three vibrant town squares, free live music and dancing is available from 5-9. Drink specials are offered during the first hour, the zig-zagging queues to procure beverages reminiscent of those at nearby Walt Disney World’s main attractions.

The Villages, however, is not a destination for night owls, as the entire place — including movies, restaurants, shops, and entertainment — shuts down at 9 p.m., even on New Year’s Eve!

Unbearably humid, subtropical temperatures in the summer and plenty of insects, thus necessitating the screened lanai’s and “bird cage” pool enclosures, are additional cons that may be a deterrent to some who are contemplating year-round living in Florida. Though the full-time transplants will argue that retreating into the air conditioning during summer’s peak heat is no different than, and preferable to, hibernating inside the heated indoors during the north’s freezing winters.

For my daughter and me, our last two days in The Villages brought perfect summer-like temperatures sans humidity; ideal for lounging by the pool with a good book while palm trees swayed overhead.

Not a bad way to spend a few days in January. I think I could get used to life in the Sunshine State.

Editor’s Note: This column is the second in a two-part series on The Villages, Florida.

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