You don’t need to earn another degree or sign up for a gym membership to stay in good mental and physical shape. A wide variety of options can help you exercise your mind and body to keep your driving skills sharp. Solve a few puzzles, try simple stretching exercise techniques, and follow a low-impact, home-based strength training routine to increase your ability to drive safely.
Mental Fitness Techniques
While older minds may be just as sharp as younger ones, they often react more slowly. On average, the human brain begins to slow down slightly beginning around age 30. Getting older doesn’t have to result in cognitive decline, however, if you exercise your mind.
As you age, it takes your brain more time to process information, decide how to handle it, and take action. As each step takes longer, making quick decisions can become dangerous on the roadway. Using problem-solving skills, even in non-driving ways, can help improve your mental fitness and flexibility. When choosing a mental fitness activity, keep three things in mind*:
- Variety. Mastering a new skill gets easier with time and practice, so introduce some variety. By changing things up on a regular basis, your mental fitness will have to work harder to adapt to the exercise or activity. This is similar to circuit training during physical exercise routines.
- Challenge. Never let a task become too easy. Expose yourself to mental activities with increasing levels of challenge or difficulty.
- Novelty. Try new mental activities, since very important parts of the brain (e.g., prefrontal cortex) are mostly exercised when you learn to master new cognitive challenges.
*Adapted from The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness
Train for the road ahead.
DriveSharp takes a unique approach to driving safety. It’s an online brain fitness program designed to sharpen your most important safety equipment: your mind. DriveSharp has been scientifically proven to help you:
- Cut your risk of a car crash by up to 50 percent.
- Increase useful field of view by up to 200 percent.
- React faster to dangers, for instance reducing stopping distance by up to 22 feet at 55 mph.
- Drive with greater confidence at night, in congested traffic, and in new places.
Learn a new skill or hobby.
When choosing a new skill or hobby, look for mentally challenging activities like learning a new language, playing bridge, or learning to play a musical instrument. These activities stimulate the mind and help to improve your cognitive performance. Activities like jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, or Sudoku can be fun, interactive, and help keep your mind sharp.
Physical Fitness Benefits
As we age, some decline in physical fitness is inevitable. But scientific research shows that after age 30, sedentary people begin to lose their capacity to do physical activity more quickly than those who remain active—so it’s vital to keep moving.
Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to produce positive results. Effective exercise programs should do three things: challenge your heart and lungs aerobically, stretch and strengthen your muscles, and loosen your joints to help with flexibility. Brisk walking, routine housework, and gardening all count. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, if possible.
Maintain flexibility for safe driving.
Based on research that shows that higher levels of fitness among seniors is associated with better driving performance, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recommends that senior drivers develop a regular routine of exercise and stretching to improve neck, shoulder, trunk, back, and overall body flexibility.
Flexibility permits drivers to move the entire body and all joints more freely so you can observe the road from all angles and maneuver your vehicle as needed. This can help alert you to potential hazards in unexpected areas on the road in addition to making it easier to:
- Get in and out of the car;
- Look to the side and rear;
- Park the car;
- Adjust the safety belts;
- And sit for extended periods of time.
Good flexibility also helps improve posture and prevent fatigue while driving.