Resilience: Bouncing Back with Spirit

How do you handle set-backs in life?  When adversity strikes, how easily do you rebound?  Are you confident that you can survive life's challenges and carry on? Resilience arms you to fight back against catastrophe and to believe in your ability to cope in the future. It is a measure of psychological fitness. New research on resilience highlights intriguing findings*:

  • Psychological fitness boosts physical fitness.  A study at Florida State University showed that poor resilience affects aerobic capacity. On a treadmill stress test the least resilient performed as if they were 10 years older than their peers.
  • Poor resilience can also affect your health by weakening the immune system, heart health and brain function.
  • Your own stress response can be more damaging than the stressor itself.  The more you stress over a situation, the more you activate the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which over time can create health problems.
  • While partially innate, resilience can be learned.  Based on 20 years of research from the Penn Resiliency Project at the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army recently implemented a training program instructing soldiers how to build their resilience, a "boot camp for the brain."
  • At Loughborough University in England, Olympic champions said they wouldn't have won their gold medals if not for overcoming hardships during their training, such as serious illness, career-threatening injuries and their parents' divorce.

I have been thinking about the importance of resilience in the aging process as I watch my 95-year old mother cope with one challenge after another. Despite the many physical restrictions that limit her capacity for life, her buoyant psychological outlook keeps her thriving, moving forward and growing.

For other blog posts on this topic, please see:

A Fighting Spirit at 93

Mental Muscle:  Strength Training for the Mind

How Can Exercise Build Resilience to Stress

*As reported in the September issue of Fitness magazine, "Find Your Backbone" by Dana Hudepohl