Dr. Susan Lehmann
Resilience and Healthy Aging
by Susan Lehmann
Change is inevitable as we age. We all experience changes in appearance and physical functioning, as well as in our relationships and responsibilities. Often these changes involve loss, pain, or emotional challenges, and how we cope with changing circumstances has a profound effect on our sense of well-being.
In my work as a psychiatrist, I have met many people coping with challenging medical and psychiatric conditions. One older couple stands out whose lifestyle gradually changed over the years due to declining health. Yet, each step of the way, they maintained a flexible and optimistic outlook and remained open to new ways of coping. That is, they demonstrated resilience in their ability to adapt to new life circumstances.
In the past, descriptions of "successful aging" have focused on the absence of illness. We now know, however, that "aging well" does not mean living without disease or disability. In fact, recent studies have shown that having resilience is more important to emotional well-being than the absence of disease.
Resilience refers to a person's ability to adapt to changing circumstances or adversity while maintaining a sense of purpose and positivity. Individuals with high resilience recover faster from medical challenges and report higher levels of life satisfaction. Importantly, resilience is a characteristic that can be developed and increased by the actions we engage in.
These three factors are particularly strong contributors to resilience:
Regular exercise provides energy and promotes self-efficacy. Having social connections with people we care about provides support. Engaging in activities that give us meaning fosters a sense of purpose and self-worth.
- social connectedness
- meaningful activity
As we age, it is important to seek out activities that strengthen our resilience. While we can't ensure a future free from illness or stress, resilience is a key foundation of healthy aging that we all can achieve.