Each time your body is exposed to a virus, it develops antibodies that make you immune to that virus in the future, so the older you get, the more likely it is that you’ll be immune to some of the estimated 200 cold viruses in circulation.
Experts estimate that after the age of 50, the average person has one or two colds each year — this compares with two or three for 20-year-olds and many more for children. Unfortunately, this increased immunity doesn’t apply to the flu virus which mutates every year.
Although we associate the ageing process with failing mental prowess, some areas, such as vocabulary and long-term memory, can be sharpened with age.
Scans show that we grow new brain cells as we learn.
‘If you make the most of your memory and use it regularly, that portion of your brain can actually get better as you get older,’ explains Dr Gary Small, a neuroscientist and author of The Memory Bible.
Verbal ability continues to improve into old age, particularly if we keep reading.
A recent study by the University of Texas found that beyond the age of 60, we are also better at making decisions that guarantee long-term benefits than we might have been in our 20s and 30s.
In the study, older participants consistently outperformed their younger rivals by figuring out the option that led to the most long-term reward.
The researchers believe that the ventral striatum region of the brain, associated with habit formation and immediate reward, deteriorates with age, and we compensate by using the prefrontal cortex which controls rational and deliberate thoughts.
Furthermore, brain scans show that while young people often use only one side of their brain for a specific task, middle-aged and older adults are more likely to activate both hemispheres at once.
In most people the left hemisphere specialises in speech, language and logical reasoning while the right hemisphere handles more intuitive tasks such as face recognition and reading emotional cues.
By involving both sides, older people can make more fruitful connections among the disparate parts of a problem.
Neuroscientists believe our brain learns to do this after middle age as a means of boosting efficiency and helping us see the bigger picture when performing tasks.