Keep your body and brain in working order by challenging them each day.
Keep your body and brain in working order by challenging them each day. iStock

Now is the time to use it before you lose it

There are many challenges to ageing and also many advantages and gifts, although we may not always recognise or appreciate that at the time.

Take physical changes, for example.

Without wishing to fully admit to myself that I'm getting older, or as I prefer to say, more mature, which is probably open to debate, when I look back to what I used to take for granted some years ago I realise that a lot has changed. It doesn't change suddenly, just incrementally, which is why it can be hard to remember how long it's been since you were able, if ever, to read that ridiculously small print list of ingredients on whatever it is you're buying (or is that just me?). Or demonstrate the same level of fitness or sporting prowess even though we often think we are ...

We may start to lose overall flexibility and agility and become stiffer in our joints, some body parts seem to be playing up while others seem to be migrating south. In addition to certain physical changes, we may also experience adaptations to the brain. If we stop learning new skills like a foreign language or taking up a musical instrument or finding ways to challenge our thinking, we can put our mental wellbeing at risk and may experience poor memory and lack of focus.

Whether it's the body or the brain and nervous system it doesn't have to be a swift deterioration, but it is a case of use it or risk losing it. Part of the problem is that, for many of us, by the time we understand the importance of continuing to use everything we also realise that we should have been working on it well before now.

For example, muscle strength is at its peak for men and women between the ages of 20 and 30 and although it can be continued for another 20 years, by middle age muscular performance can diminish by five per cent every 10 years.

At one time research indicated that the human brain stopped developing around the age of 18 and we would start to lose millions of neurons every day from there on - fortunately we have around 100 billion to start with. In case you are starting to worry (which is not good for the brain, by the way) more recent research started in the 1970s, and finally released in 2013, discovered neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to continue to change and develop over time. I can hear you breathing a sigh of relief.

So now we know and there is a lot we can do about it. There are plenty of examples of individuals well into their 70s, 80s and 90s who are able to maintain their independence through continuing to move and stretch their body and learn and practise new things to keep their brains active and healthy.

Whatever age you are, there is no time like the present to start investing in your future self and begin using before you start losing and it's about finding what works best for you.