Exercise Critical in Protecting Driving Ability as We Age

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • For the past decade or so, I’ve been really worried about driving with my father. He’s now 88 years of age, but he had been increasingly experiencing difficulty turning his head since the early 2000s. Thus, he really cannot turn his head to look for oncoming vehicles. Fortunately, he’s pretty much given up driving (although he still claims that he can drive safely if he wants or needs to).


    Watching my father age and seeing him have difficulty doing what seems to be simple things has given me added incentive to try to do things differently. But I never thought about what I needed to do so I could protect my ability to drive. It turns out that researchers out of the AgeLab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have worked with the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence to research how to physically perform all of the tasks related to driving. And surprisingly, it comes down to exercise!

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    In this study, researchers surveyed drivers who were 50 years of age and above and found that about 50 percent had not considered how exercise may assist them with their ability to drive. The survey also identifying specific physical aspects of driving that the drivers found most challenging. These findings were:

    • 41 percent said they had difficulty turning their head and body in order to look behind the vehicle when backing up.
    • 22 percent said they had difficulty getting in and out of the car.
    • 19 percent said they had difficulty turning their head in order to see blind spots when they were changing lanes.

    As part of the study, researchers asked a group of experienced drivers who were between the ages of 60 and 74 years of age to participate in a physical fitness program. The program involved doing 15-20 minutes of exercises daily over eight to 10 weeks. The exercise program involved four components:

    • Strength exercises, which are important for many aspects of driving, including pressing on the brake pedal to slow or stop the car. Exercises that were assigned to improve this type of strength included squats as well as bicep curls.
    • Range of motion exercises, which are necessary for driving tasks such as putting on a seatbelt or stepping on the gas pedal. The researchers asked participants to do exercises such as back stretches and heel drops in order to improve their range of motion.
    • Flexibility exercises, which are necessary for driving tasks such as getting in and out of the vehicle easily. The researchers asked participants to do exercises such as chest and shoulder expansions as well as shoulder stretches.
    • Coordination exercises, which assist with the integration of movement in the lower and upper body (such as when you’re braking and turning at the same time).  The researchers recommended soccer kicks and lateral steps in order to boost coordination.

    The researchers assessed the participants’ driving skills at the study of the study and then again as the study ended. This assessment involved a combination of in-lab tests, a driving simulator and using the instrumented MIT AgeLab Aware Car.


  • The researchers found that drivers who exercised on a daily basis said they had greater ease in turning their head so they could see blind spots when they were changing lanes or backing up. These drivers also could rotate their bodies further in order to scan the driving environment while they were making right-hand turns. Furthermore, these drivers could get into their cars more rapidly, thus showing increased overall flexibility.

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    So the moral of this story – if you want to maintain your independence in more ways than one, consult with your physician and then get involved in a well-rounded exercise program.


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    The Hartford. (nd). Exercise for mature drivers.

Published On: December 09, 2013