Fitness First: Stay Fit to Keep Driving Safely

By Friends & Neighbors December 15, 2013 10:04

Krista-Howell-fitness-column-winter2012-199x300[1]Our rural foothill communities are great places to live – for safe drivers, that is.

Driving helps you stay independent. But illness, injury and age-related changes can reduce muscle strength, endurance, flexibility and joint stability – all vital to your ability to safely steer, monitor oncoming traffic, brake, park and more.

The single biggest error senior drivers make? “Not looking over the shoulder for approaching traffic,” a retired CHP officer told me.

He’s right: Research shows that drivers over 50 have less range of motion in the neck. Other factors come into play behind the wheel, including body strength, vision, reflexes, mental acuity and more.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety identifies failure to yield the right-of-way as the most common error by seniors involved in crashes.

“Reasons for older drivers’ failure-to-yield crashes varied with age,” the IIHS reports. “Compared with younger and older drivers, drivers 70-80 were more likely to see another vehicle but misjudge whether there was time to proceed. Drivers 80 and older predominantly failed to see the other vehicle.”

Statistically, physically fit seniors are safer drivers, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Research. Exercise helps us keep that strength and flexibility. Good flexibility also helps improve posture and prevent fatigue while driving.

If you’re not exercising regularly, think carefully about the benefits. Putting in the time and effort now may quite literally help you down the road. It’s guaranteed to help maintain or improve your fitness level, and lets you feel more confident whether driving around town or going long distances.

Krista’s Safe-Driver Fitness Program

Endurance: Walk, cycle or run 15-30 minutes daily.

Strength: Use resistive equipment such as dumbbells or bands. Repeat each exercise 30 times two to three days per week.

Bicep Curls: Grip weights or bands in hands with palms up and curl arms upward.

  • Shoulder Press: Press weights overhead.
  • Front Raise: Lift weights from hip with straight arm to shoulder height.
  • Squat: Place your feet shoulder-width apart, then slowly bend at the knee to strengthen legs.
  • Calf Raises: Raise up and down on your toes to strengthen calf muscles; hold onto a chair as needed. This is also a great balance exercise.

Flexibility: Stretch to improve circulation and range of motion. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds.

  • Neck Rotation: Slowly move your neck from side to side; pick a focal point to look at while you stretch – this exercises the eye muscles at the same time.
  • Trunk Rotation: Rotate your torso to the left and hold, and then repeat to the right; do this 10 times on each side.
  • Shoulder Squeeze: Pull shoulders up towards your ears and hold; pull your shoulders forward and hold, then back and hold; repeat 10 times each.
  • Hamstring Stretch: When we sit for long periods the back of our upper legs tighten. We usually think it’s our back that is sore, but often it is the hamstrings. Stretch the hamstring muscle by reaching for your toes (try not to bend your knees). Repeat 10 times.
  • Balance: Stand on one leg for 20 seconds, repeat with the other leg.

Now here’s my favorite tip for drivers: Adjust your rear-view mirror while you are sitting up straight, and don’t readjust it even during a long drive. As you get tired and start slumping, straighten up again. And on long trips, be sure to stop every couple of hours to walk around and stretch.

Krista Howell of Sonora works with cardiac patients and teaches senior fitness.

Copyright © 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Friends & Neighbors December 15, 2013 10:04
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