Family members and caregivers may worry about their aging parents’ ability to continue driving.
A recent study indicates that exercise may provide at least one way to help sharpen driving skills for older adults.
In 2013, the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab published the report, “Exercise for Mature Drivers.” According to the Hartford Center’s website, “(the) research tracked experienced drivers ages 60-74 as they followed a physical fitness program for 15-20 minutes per day over eight to ten weeks. The exercise program focused on four areas – flexibility, range of motion, strength and coordination. Participants’ driving skills were assessed before and after the exercise program with a combination of in-lab tests, a driving simulator and the instrumented MIT “AgeLab Aware Car”.
The scientists found that aging parents and others who who participated in the study and exercised daily improved their driving skills. Such ones experienced:
Greater ease in turning their heads, which enabled them to see potential blind spots.
Greater ease in rotating their full bodies, allowing them to make a “full environmental” scans of the road and surrounding areas, such as is necessary when making a right hand turn.
Greater ease in getting into vehicles due to overall increased flexibility.
These areas correspond to areas identified by drivers 50 years of age and older as being challenging.
The four exercises in which participants were encouraged to participate were:
Strength exercises such as bicep curls and squats.
Range of motion exercises, such as back stretches and heel drops.
Flexibility exercises, such as chest expansions and shoulder stretches.
Coordination exercises, such as soccer kicks and lateral stepping.
The results of one study are never conclusive, but this program does make sense on a surface level and certainly bears further research. Additionally, continuous monitoring of driving skills, ability to react, and vision screening are important to safe driving.
- Exercise could help make driving safer for seniors (wwltv.com)
- For the Aging, an Alternative to Giving Up the Car Keys (nytimes.com)