Resilience in Motion: Unlocking Potential though Exercise

May 06, 2024

Resilience is the ability to adapt and bounce back from adversity, trauma, or significant stress. It is not just about "toughing it out" or being unaffected by challenges; instead, it involves a process of emotional, mental, and behavioural adaptation. Resilient individuals are able to maintain their equilibrium and function effectively, even when faced with difficult situations or setbacks.

Resilience is often characterised by several key attributes:

  • A Positive Outlook: Resilient individuals tend to have a positive view of themselves and their abilities. They are optimistic and believe that they can overcome challenges and achieve their goals.

  • Problem-Solving Skills: Resilient people are adept at problem-solving and can come up with effective strategies to address and manage challenges.

  • Emotional Regulation: Resilient individuals are able to manage and regulate their emotions in healthy ways. They can cope with stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions without becoming overwhelmed.

  • Social Support: Having a strong support network of family, friends, and community can significantly bolster resilience. Resilient individuals often seek and utilise support from others during challenging times.

  • Flexibility: Resilient people are adaptable and flexible in their thinking and behaviour. They can adjust their approach and perspective in response to changing circumstances.

  • Sense of Purpose: A strong sense of purpose or meaning in life can contribute to resilience. It provides motivation and a reason to persevere through difficult times.

Resilience is a dynamic process that can be developed and strengthened over time through various experiences, coping strategies, and supportive relationships. It is an essential skill that enables individuals to navigate the ups and downs of life more effectively and maintain a sense of well-being and psychological health.

Why is reliance so important for kids? 

Resilience is particularly important for children for several key reasons:

  • Adaptability to Change: The early years include periods of rapid growth and development, during which children face various challenges and changes. Resilient children are better able to adapt to these changes, whether they are transitioning to a new school, dealing with family issues, or facing academic pressures.

  • Emotional Well-being: Resilience helps children manage and cope with negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety, and frustration. It enables them to bounce back from disappointments and setbacks, reducing the risk of developing mental health problems like depression and anxiety disorders.

  • Academic Success: Resilient children are more likely to persevere in the face of academic challenges and setbacks. They develop a growth mindset, believing that their abilities can improve with effort and practice, which can lead to greater academic success and a love for learning.

  • Social Skills and Relationships: Resilient children are better equipped to navigate social interactions and build positive relationships with peers and adults. They develop empathy, effective communication skills, and conflict resolution abilities, which are essential for building and maintaining healthy relationships throughout life.

  • Physical Health: Resilience is linked to better physical health outcomes in children. Children who are resilient are more likely to engage in healthy behaviours, such as regular exercise, balanced diet, and adequate sleep, which contribute to their overall well-being and reduce the risk health-related diseases.

  • Long-term Well-being: Developing resilience in childhood sets the foundation for long-term psychological and emotional well-being. Resilient children grow into adults who are better equipped to handle the challenges and stresses of adulthood, reducing the risk of mental health disorders, substance abuse, and other health-related issues in the future.

Resilience is a vital skill for children as it enables them to navigate the complexities and challenges of childhood and adolescence more effectively. It promotes their emotional, social, academic, and physical well-being, setting the stage for a healthier and more successful future. As such, fostering resilience in children is an essential goal for parents, educators, and health professionals alike.


Exercise and Resilience Benefits of Regular Exercise

  • Cardiovascular health

  • Muscle strength and endurance

  • Weight management

  • Improved sleep quality

  • Increased neuroplasticity 

  • Exercise helps in developing a growth mindset

  • Physical Activity Building self-efficacy and confidence 


Neuroplasticity and Resilience 

  •  Adaptability: Neuroplasticity allows the brain to adapt and reorganise in response to challenges and stressors. Resilient individuals are able to adapt to changing circumstances and bounce back from setbacks by forming new neural connections and pathways.

  • Learning and Growth: Resilience involves learning from experiences, both positive and negative, and using that knowledge to cope with future challenges. Neuroplasticity enables this learning process by facilitating the formation of new neural connections and strengthening existing ones.

  • Coping Mechanisms: Resilient individuals develop effective coping strategies to manage stress and adversity. Neuroplasticity supports the development and refinement of these coping mechanisms by allowing the brain to adapt and optimise its response to stressors.

  • Emotional Regulation: Neuroplasticity plays a role in emotional regulation by allowing the brain to adapt and modify its emotional responses. Resilient individuals are better able to regulate their emotions and maintain emotional balance, which is facilitated by the brain's plasticity.

  • Positive Mindset and Optimism: Developing a positive mindset and optimism are key components of resilience. Neuroplasticity enables individuals to reframe negative thoughts and beliefs, fostering a more positive and optimistic outlook on life.

  • Recovery and Healing: After experiencing trauma or adversity, the brain's ability to reorganise and form new neural connections is essential for recovery and healing. Neuroplasticity supports this process, allowing resilient individuals to recover more effectively and rebuild their lives.


In The Research : The Link Between Exercise and Resilience 

In a recent study by Ludyga et al, 2023, 110 children aged 10-13 wore sensors to track their daily activity for a week. The results? Kids who exercised over an hour daily had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol during stressful tasks than those who were less active. 

“When children regularly run, swim, climb, etc., the brain learns to associate a rise in cortisol with something positive. The body's reaction always has a cognitive component as well: this positive association helps to prevent the concentration of cortisol from rising to too high a level in exam situations as well (2).”

Regular physical activity not only benefits physical health but also appears to enhance resilience, helping children better manage stress both physically and mentally.


Practical Tips for Building Resilience Through Exercise

  • Recommended types of exercise for resilience building

  • Let’s now look at what exercise is going to influence cognitive and social emotional skills 

  • Aerobic exercises 

  • Strength training

  • Crossing the midline exercises 

  • Mind-body exercises

  • Tips for incorporating regular exercise into daily life AKA adherence 

  • Remember to take on the role of an educator 

  • Find something they enjoy 

  • Peer inclusive 

  • Make it relatable and fun 

  • Be led by them 

  • Get them to create goals 

  • Provide challenges 

  • Give praise 

  • Setting achievable goals and tracking progress



  1. University of Basel. "Active children are more resilient." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 September 2023. <>.

  2. Manuel Hanke, Vera Nina Looser, Fabienne Bruggisser, Rahel Leuenberger, Markus Gerber, Sebastian Ludyga. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and reactivity to acute psychosocial stress in preadolescent children. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2023; DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2023.07.010


  1. Zhang Y, Zhang X, Zhang L, Guo C. Executive Function and Resilience as Mediators of Adolescents' Perceived Stressful Life Events and School Adjustment. Front Psychol. 2019 Feb 28;10:446. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00446. PMID: 30873099; PMCID: PMC6403185,,considered%20as%20a%20significative%20correlation