As the number of adults over the age of 65 in Michigan continues to climb, the average age of drivers on our roads climbs too. Contrary to the stereotype we see in the media about older drivers, they are not creating the greatest risks on the road. Teenagers still lead the way in the number of accidents that harm other drivers. Instead, seniors are more likely to be a hazard to themselves. Older drivers in Michigan are no different.
According to the Institute for Highway Safety, older drivers are more likely to have an accident where they are injured. In 2009, almost 4,000 drivers 70 and older died in automobile accidents.
MIT AgeLab and The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence conducted a study that explored the relationship between physical fitness and older drivers. They discovered that exercise can play a key role in keeping older drivers safe behind the wheel. That is because physical activity can help improve range of motion and flexibility.
Surveyors examined three areas that older drivers identified as difficult:
- Turning their neck, shoulders and upper body to look behind them – the action you take when backing out of your driveway or a parking space at the mall.
- Bending down to slide behind the wheel of the car. Getting in and out of their car was often considered difficult for older adults in the study. We know that seniors are at greater risk from falls when entering and exiting a vehicle.
- Turning their head to look over their shoulder while driving. This makes it difficult to merge in traffic and change lanes on the highway.
Using that insight, researchers developed a series of exercises that worked on improving four key areas for older adults: overall strength, flexibility, range of motion and coordination. The eight exercises they recommend are no-impact and many can even be performed while seated.
After eight to ten weeks of participating in the exercise training program, older drivers reported:
- Greater ease in turning their head to back up and to check their blind spot.
- Better able to rotate their bodies to survey their driving environment.
- Stronger muscle tone and flexibility helped them get in and out of their car more easily.
Exercise for Mature Drivers is a free download from The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and MIT AgeLab.
What do you think? Are you an older driver in Michigan?
Let us know what you think about these exercises after you try them!