Social support and physical activity associated with greater resilience


Many older adults experience reduced physical strength and mobility, particularly those in lower socioeconomic positions. However, some individuals have high wellbeing despite these challenges, i.e. they are “resilient”.

Why is this important?

If we can identify resources, such as physical activity and social support, that are associated with greater resilience, older adults may have higher quality of life despite facing age-related challenges.

What was done?

A survey of over 1756 older adults was administered, asking participants about their levels of wellbeing. Trained nurses then measured participants’ level of physical functioning.

What was found?

Increased physical activity and social support was associated with greater resilience.

How does this affect me?

By taking more exercise and being more socially involved, you may experience greater wellbeing.

Article Abstract
Aging is associated with declines in physical capability; however, some individuals demonstrate high well-being despite this decline, i.e. they are “resilient.” We examined socioeconomic position (SEP) and resilience and the influence of potentially modifiable behavioral resources, i.e. social support and leisure time physical activity (LTPA), on these relationships.

Data came from the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development, a nationally-representative birth cohort study. Resilience–vulnerability at age 60–64 years (n = 1,756) was operationalized as the difference between observed and expected levels of well-being, captured by the Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS), given the level of performance-based physical capability. SEP was assessed by father’s and own social class, parental education, and intergenerational social mobility. PA and structural/functional social support were reported at ages 53 years and 60–64 years. Path analysis was used to examine mediation of SEP and resilience–vulnerability through LTPA and social support.

Participants in the highest social class had scores on the resilience to vulnerability continuum that were an average of 2.3 units (β = 0.46, 95% CI 0.17, 0.75) higher than those in the lowest social class. Greater LTPA (β = 0.58, 95% CI 0.31, 0.85) and social support (β = 3.27, 95% CI 2.90, 3.63) were associated with greater resilience; LTPA partly mediated participant social class and resilience (23.4% of variance).

Adult socioeconomic advantage was associated with greater resilience. Initiatives to increase LTPA may contribute to reducing socioeconomic inequalities in this form of resilience in later life.

Keywords: resilience, healthy aging, physical functioning, wellbeing

Article Citation

Cosco, T., Cooper, R., Kuh, D., & Stafford, M. (2017). Socioeconomic inequalities in resilience and vulnerability among older adults: A population-based birth cohort analysis. International Psychogeriatrics, 1-9. doi:10.1017/S1041610217002198

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