The New Science of Resilience

By Robert L. Weinberg, Ph.D.

Summary: Current scientific research on Telomeres validates key principles for leaders in maintaining resilience and reducing stress.

In today’s world, where change is constant, and seems to happen at the speed of Twitter, it is more critical than ever that leaders demonstrate their ability to respond, to adapt, and to ‘bounce back’ from setbacks, otherwise known as resilience. Effective leadership it Is typically measured by the quality of decisions and the success and reliability of the results produced.  Leaders who can demonstrate resilience are much more capable of sustaining high performance.

So how can leaders build resilience?  

Current research has validated several practices and methods for doing this. In their book “The Telomere Effect”, Nobel prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn* and her colleague Dr. Elissa Epel outline the current state of our understanding in this arena.

Photo: Telomere by AJC1 on  Flickr  

Photo: Telomere by AJC1 on Flickr 

 
In brief, Telomeres are the repeated DNA structures at the ends of our chromosomes. They protect the chromosomes from damage and ultimately cell death. Telomeres shrink with age and telomere length has been shown to correlate with better health outcomes as we grow older. So, in a literal sense, one key to resilience is to maintain longer telomeres over time.

What is exciting and crucial about the research they present is that they have identified a number of key factors that correlate with shortened telomeres, as well as specific behaviors that promote telomere health, resilience and longevity. As they put it, by engaging in healthy practices we can greatly improve our chances of increasing our “healthspan” (the number of years of healthy life) and shrinking our “diseasespan” (years with noticeable disease that interferes with our quality of life.)

So, what are the keys?

They sum up the findings in what they call “The Telomere Manifesto,” nothing less than a prescription for resilience and a healthier life. Spoiler alert – many of these will sound quite familiar. Being validated by quality science makes them even more compelling.

There are four main sections of recommendations

First, reduce stress levels, especially from persistent, intense stress. They point to changes in both behaviors and mindsets. Finding ways to transform apparent threats into compelling challenges is one. Restorative and mindfulness activities are also important here.

Second, physical maintenance of telomeres and our bodies. This includes the basics: an active lifestyle coupled with adequate rest, and a healthy diet, long on moderation and Omega 3 fatty acids.

The third section of the manifesto is less obvious. The focus here is on relationships and a sense of connection. They cite compelling correlations for benefits of things we appreciate anecdotally such as a small number of good, close relationships, family bonding, more human connections with less “screen time” and seeking “green”, i.e. time in nature. There are added benefits to building community. Being a good neighbor and even helping strangers are two suggestions noted.

The fourth and final section addresses building health and resilience in your community and in the world. Here they advocate the benefits of improving prenatal care, social equality, environmental awareness, and providing broader access to fresh, healthy foods.

Taken together, the data shows these will generate healthier populations of people with more resilience. The potential to-do list is long. My advice? Rather than letting that fact create more stress, pick a couple of items that speak to you and turn them into healthy habits to nurture and build your own resilience.


*I had the privilege of studying at UC Berkeley for my Ph.D. while Dr. Blackburn and her colleagues were doing their pioneering research on Telomeres and the Telomerase enzyme, and Dr. Blackburn served as Committee Chair for my Qualifying Exam faculty committee.

Robert L. Weinberg, Ph.D. from is a member of Trilogy Effect’s extended team. This is his first post on the Trilogy Effect blog.

Eager to learn out more about the new science of resilience? Connect with Trilogy Effect today: 1-613-406-5834.