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Seattle Aging Expert Shares 5 Keys to Building Resilience And a Better Life

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Now 76, Larson is one of the country’s foremost experts on healthy aging. As he begins to wind down a career that included serving as medical director of UW Medical Center and executive director of Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, the thing he misses most is working with patients — especially the older men and women he met through ACT.

There was Evangeline “Van” Schuler, who flew to Argentina for a tango contest when she was 101 — and lived to 108. At the age of 101, another participant vividly recalled bomber missions he flew over Europe in World War II, even as his memory of recent events grew spotty.

Larson drew on lessons learned from his patients along with ACT’s research findings for his 2017 book (with Joan DeClaire), “Enlightened Aging: Building Resilience for a Long, Active Life.”

Now that he’s reached senior status himself, he’s putting that advice into practice — not just to preserve his brain health, but with the goal of remaining active, engaged and fulfilled.

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The key, he’s convinced, is resilience.

As they age, resilient people draw on reserves of well-being in three overlapping categories: mental, physical and social, Larson found. Exercise helps preserve the strength and flexibility vital for independence. But what’s good for the body is also good for the mind. And older people with strong social networks are healthier and happier, and live longer.

Larson’s most inspiring patients also share two other characteristics. They are active participants in managing their own health. And they accept and adapt to the changes that aging inevitably brings.

Larson loved running but gave it up when his knees told him it was time. Now, he hikes, walks and rides his bike. He reduced his work schedule to about half-time and is handing off management of ACT to younger colleagues. “I’m replacing some of the things I’ve loved and been inspired to work on with other things,” he says.

He still writes scientific reports but recently branched out into writing about aging for a general audience. Larson’s newest column in 3rd Act Magazine, “Slow down, you move too fast,” is about avoiding falls.

He’s spending more time with his grandkids — and his chickens. He’s also taking piano lessons, relishing the joy of music combined with manual dexterity and mental agility. He and his wife are the oldest members of their book club, which keeps them in touch with younger people.

He’s still not sure exactly how this new chapter of his life will unfold, but he’s optimistic.

“I’m bound and determined to find whatever that new balance is.”

Source: Seattle Times

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