Life & Style Weekend - - MIND - MIND YOU WORDS: ROWENA HARDY Rowena Hardy is a facilitato­r and coach at mind­

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.

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