Fit for Driving: Exercises for Mature Drivers
As Baby Boomers continue to reach retirement, the average age of drivers on the nation’s highways is climbing. While a common perception is that senior behind the wheel put other drivers at higher risk for injury, they are actually less likely than teen drivers are to cause fatal and non-fatal accidents. The truth is that older drivers are more likely to cause harm to themselves when they hit the road.
The Facts about Seniors Behind the Wheel
According to the CDC, almost 4,000 drivers age 70 and older die in car accidents each year. On average, 500 seniors are injured car crashes every day. Both are pretty worrisome statistics for the adult children of older drivers.
To try to determine the reasons seniors have accidents, MIT AgeLab and The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence investigated what happens when seniors climb behind the wheel of a car. Their study specifically looked at the role physical fitness might play in keeping older drivers safe. The results were pretty significant.
Is the Senior You Love Fit for Driving?
Researchers discovered that fitness plays a key role in how safe a senior is driving. Because physical activity helps older adults maintain both flexibility and range of motion, seniors who exercise regularly have fewer car accidents.
There are three areas that are particularly important for senior drivers:
Older Driver Exercises Tested
- Upper Body Mobility: The ability to turn your shoulders and upper body to look behind you is important. Drivers need to do this smoothly to be able to safely assess their surroundings.
- Neck and Shoulder Flexibility: Similarly, drivers need to be able to quickly turn their head to look over their shoulder while merging in traffic and or changing lanes on the highway. Seniors who aren’t as limber are at higher risk for injury while driving.
- Entering and Exiting the Vehicle: Bending down to slide behind the wheel of the car requires balance, core strength and flexibility. Its why older adults experience more falls than younger drivers while they are getting in to and out of their car.
Using that insight, researchers developed a series of eight exercises older drivers can do that help improve their fitness for driving. They specifically target four areas:
- Overall strength
- Range of motion
Each exercise is considered to be no-impact and most can be performed from a seated position. The exercises were successfully tested on older drivers over an eight to ten week period. The improvements were all positive:
- Participants reported greater ease in turning their head to back up, change lanes, and check their blind spot.
- Adults demonstrated a better ability to rotate their neck and shoulders to assess their environment when they followed the eight exercises.
- Seniors developed stronger muscle tone and greater flexibility. Both helped make them feel safer as they were entering and exiting their car.
Exercise for Mature Drivers is a complimentary guide that was created as a result of this survey. You can download it for yourself or to share with the seniors in your life.
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