Most of us remember when we were at our “best” – when physical limitations were more about “guts” than they were about strength, flexibility or stamina. We would take on any challenge offered up by our buddies. We could stay up all night just for the fun of it. We tried new things because they looked fun and we laughed at our pals when they failed with heroic attempts. And all the while, never did a bruise, a scrape or even a broken bone deter us from taking on the next challenge once it was brought to our attention.

Now think for a second. How long ago was that for you?

Somewhere in life we begin to “play it safe”. We stop trying new things, taking on the dares of our peers and testing our physical acumen. We surrender to “watching the kids do it” or making excuses for it – like bad knees, an old football injury or “something else” we have to do at the time. If prompted or prodded in any way we might quickly change the subject and reflect back on the time we experienced the [fill in here], in an attempt to somehow say, “You know, I was able to go for it like that at one time in my life…even though you can’t see it now.”

And this transition – from taking on any seductive opportunity to demonstrate physical expression, to waving off all inviters – is one of the many beginnings to the end of healthy living.

Now let’s be clear – there is really no need try to ride a bicycle down the nearest hand rail by the steps of the school or to try a double back flip off the roof into your six year old’s plastic swimming pool. But it does make a lot of sense to explore new physical challenges regularly – wherever you are in life, right now.

And what defines “physical challenge”? It might be walking around the block, or preparing for a 20 mile walk-a-thon or walking across America. It can take the form of starting an exercise program, being more regular in one or entering a fitness challenge at your local gym. Or it could be learning to swim, working your way up to swimming a mile or entering the next Masters Swim competition. Rank beginner to high flier, there is always a new and more challenging place to strive physically.

And at whatever level you start, there IS significant value in looking for and embracing new physical feats.

First, there is the value seen in a shift in your outlook on life. Putting your body and mind through physically challenging – or even demanding – activities literally trains your mind to be open to new ideas, new discoveries and new opportunities. You’ll find yourself seeking fulfillment in the joy of simply exploring – rather than trying to relive old, worn out stories.

Next, regularly challenging yourself physically trains and builds your self esteem and confidence. When you can regain a sense of agility or overcome new challenges for the first time, your self image soars with new confidence and certainty. And that sense of self gets translated to everything you do.

And finally there is the obvious health benefit. After all, how may articles, TV shows, books, infomercials and experts do you need to encounter before you believe that regular physical exercise heads off maladies of every sort and builds resistance to the aging process in total? Exercise is not only necessary for a long and vibrant life, it is required.

So what stories – and the lessons from those stories – will you tell your kids or grandkids at the coming Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? Will it be about when you were young (like them) – or will it be about what new adventure you took on in the past year?