Physical Resilience: Not Simply the Opposite of Frailty

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Quantifying resilience of humans and other animals


All life requires the capacity to recover from challenges that are as inevitable as they are unpredictable. Understanding this resilience is essential for managing the health of humans and their livestock. It has long been difficult to quantify resilience directly, forcing practitioners to rely on indirect static indicators of health. However, measurements from wearable electronics and other sources now allow us to analyze the dynamics of physiology and behavior with unsurpassed resolution. The resulting flood of data coincides with the emergence of novel analytical tools for estimating resilience from the pattern of microrecoveries observed in natural time series. Such dynamic indicators of resilience may be used to monitor the risk of systemic failure across systems ranging from organs to entire organisms. These tools invite a fundamental rethinking of our approach to the adaptive management of health and resilience.

Copyright © 2018 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.

Physical Resilience: Opportunities and Challenges in Translation

Citation: LeBrasseur NK. Physical Resilience: Opportunities and Challenges in Translation [published correction appears in J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017 Sep 1;72(9):1302]. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017;72(7):978-979. doi:10.1093/gerona/glx028.

Report: NIA Workshop on Measures of Physiologic Resiliencies in Human Aging


Background/objectives: Resilience, the ability to resist or recover from adverse effects of a stressor, is of widespread interest in social, psychologic, biologic, and medical research and particularly salient as the capacity to respond to stressors becomes diminished with aging. To date, research on human resilience responses to and factors influencing these responses has been limited.

Methods: The National Institute on Aging convened a workshop in August 2015 on needs for research to improve measures to predict and assess resilience in human aging. Effects of aging-related factors in impairing homeostatic responses were developed from examples illustrating multiple determinants of clinical resilience outcomes. Research directions were identified by workshop participants.

Results: Research needs identified included expanded uses of clinical data and specimens in predicting or assessing resilience, and contributions from epidemiological studies in identifying long-term predictors. Better measures, including simulation tests, are needed to assess resilience and its determinants. Mechanistic studies should include exploration of influences of biologic aging processes on human resiliencies. Important resource and infrastructure needs include consensus phenotype definitions of specific resiliencies, capacity to link epidemiological and clinical resilience data, sensor technology to capture responses to stressors, better laboratory animal models of human resiliencies, and new analytic methods to understand the effects of multiple determinants of stress responses.

Conclusions: Extending the focus of care and research to improving the capacity to respond to stressors could benefit older adults in promoting a healthier life span.

Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America 2017. This work is written by (a) US Government employee(s) and is in the public domain in the US.

Physical Resilience in Older Adults: Systematic Review and Development of an Emerging Construct


Background: Resilience has been described in the psychosocial literature as the capacity to maintain or regain well-being during or after adversity. Physical resilience is a newer concept that is highly relevant to successful aging. Our objective was to characterize the emerging construct of resilience as it pertains to physical health in older adults, and to identify gaps and opportunities to advance research in this area.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review to identify English language papers published through January 2015 that apply the term “resilience” in relation to physical health in older adults. We applied a modified framework analysis to characterize themes in implicit or explicit definitions of physical resilience.

Results: Of 1,078 abstracts identified, 49 articles met criteria for inclusion. Sixteen were letters or concept papers, and only one was an intervention study. Definitions of physical resilience spanned cellular to whole-person levels, incorporated many outcome measures, and represented three conceptual themes: resilience as a trait, trajectory, or characteristic/capacity.

Conclusions: Current biomedical literature lacks consensus on how to define and measure physical resilience. We propose a working definition of physical resilience at the whole person level: a characteristic which determines one’s ability to resist or recover from functional decline following health stressor(s). We present a conceptual framework that encompasses the related construct of physiologic reserve. We discuss gaps and opportunities in measurement, interactions across contributors to physical resilience, and points of intervention.

Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Gerontological Society of America 2015.