Want the best chance for the longest life? Fly south.
In Money's best places to live 2020 analysis of 2,000 cities spread over 673 U.S. counties, we found that no place had a higher life expectancy than Collier Co.: A retiree paradise situated near the southern tip of Florida. The residents here live to an average age of 86 years old, according to the National Center for Health Statistics’ 2016-2018 Mortality Files. That’s about seven years older than the national life expectancy rate and almost two decades older than the lowest life expectancy in our analysis (Petersburg Co. in Virginia).
This retirement destination is home to Marco Island and Naples — cities best known for their tourism, fishing, golf, and luxury retirement communities. And the senior population here is disproportionately large. Nearly half of the county’s population was over the age of 50 as of 2015, according to its 2016 demographic profile. By July 2019, 33% of the population was over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (For reference, only 17% of residents in Manhattan — where the life expectancy is 83 — are in the same age range.)
Naples and Marco Island tend to be relatively wealthy communities, where seniors have the resources to get proper medical care. But Naples and Marco Island only account for 10% of the county’s 385,000 residents. The remaining 345,000 residents of Collier Co. are spread out over the Florida Everglades and tens of census-designated places, where not all of these areas enjoy the same wealth: The county’s 80th percentile makes $138,000 a year while the 20th percentile makes $30,000.
Long Life Expectancy: The Contributing Factors
Collier Co. residents enjoy 250 days of clear skies a year and good air quality for 334 days out of the year, both well above the national average. That isn’t just a nice-to-have — it’s a game changer.
“Being down here and being active all winter long just allows our patients to age so well,” says Dr. Ronald T. Garry, the subsection chief of geriatrics at Naples Community Hospital. Before he was in Naples, Dr. Garry treated geriatric patients in Boston, MA, where sidewalks and outdoor areas were inaccessible to seniors for four to six months a year.
“The weather is one of the biggest factors allowing them to stay active — and going for a walk doesn’t cost anyone any money,” he says.
It isn’t just about sunshine, according to Dr. Garry. It's also a matter of having a well-thought-out community, where there's plenty of opportunity for activity.
Collier Co. is bordered by 34 miles of sandy beach that welcome warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to nearly 80 golf courses throughout the county, residents can seek out tens of wildlife nature preserves, including the nation’s first: the Big Cypress National Preserve. It’s 729,000 acres of biomes and ecosystems that you can explore via foot, canoe, kayak, or bike. The massive preserve is just north of Everglades National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and 1.5 million acres of pure wilderness.
These are the kind of things that attract an active community of seniors, which only reinforces the lifestyle: when their friends are active, they stay active. And a vast majority of Dr. Garry’s patients do some form of exercise almost daily.
“You can live a long time having disabilities, such as arthritis, and other chronic health issues, and it can affect your quality of life,” he says. “It’s not how long you live, it’s the quality of life you live.”
For anyone itching to escape paradise, Collier Co. is just a two- to three-hour-drive from Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, or Miami.
High Life Expectancy: What Other Cities Had in Common
In addition to Collier Co., Marin Co. in California, and Fairfax Co. and Arlington Co. in Virginia all had life expectancies higher than 85, according to data from our 2020 Best Places to Live.
These counties also had pleasant weather and clean air, getting an average 34 to 50 inches of annual rainfall (not too much and not too little) and good air quality for almost the entire year. And the communities all offer plenty of access to exercise facilities and other areas conducive to physical activity, like outdoor trails.
Another benefit? Taxes. Places with high life expectancy also have some kind of property tax exemption for seniors and don’t generally tax Social Security benefits, inheritances, or estates.