THE BLOG

4 Simple Tips for Driver Wellness

02/25/2015 10:51 am ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015

In addition to being Black History Month, February is also American Heart Month. We all know by now that one of the keys to heart health is exercise. Did you know that exercise can also help you be a safer driver?

Most people wouldn't associate driving with exercise. While staying fit is essential to a healthy lifestyle, it is also critical to driving safely. This is especially true as we age.

There are other health factors that can affect driver wellness. These four tips, derived from the AARP Smart Driver course Participant Guidebook, will not only keep you healthy, they will also help you become a safer driver:

1. Include Exercise in Your Daily Routine

Whether it's squatting to get into your vehicle, turning your head to check blind spots, or flexing your foot to reach the brake pedal, driving is a full-body activity. According to recent research by The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and MIT AgeLab, four areas of exercise can improve the physical driving-related movements many of us find challenging as we age: flexibility, strength, range of motion, and coordination.

You can view video demonstrations of each of these exercises online at The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence. Try these exercises to improve your overall physical fitness and driver wellness. Remember to consult your doctor before engaging in any new exercise program.

2. Train Your Brain

Brain training can also make you a safer, smarter driver. A study funded by the National Institute of Health recently found that adult drivers who had cognitive training for memory, reasoning, or speed of processing had 50 percent fewer car accidents than those in the control group. Incorporating brain training exercises into your daily routine can help you maintain the following critical driving skills: attention and reaction time, concentration, problem-solving skills, and memory.

As we age, natural changes may occur in our brains. Slowed reaction time, inattention, and poor judgment are responsible for many crashes at all ages but because we tend to slow down as we age, these factors assume increasing importance. Just as it is important to stay physically fit, it is important to stay mentally fit. You can access a variety of online brain fitness activities designed to help improve your memory, attention, brain speed, and overall intelligence through the AARP website.

3. Maintain a Regular Sleep Routine

Drowsy driving is distracted driving. Make sure your sleep routine isn't affecting your morning commute. Maintaining a regular sleep routine will help you fight fatigue. Adjust your schedule so you can get the commonly recommended 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Also, make sure to eat breakfast before you get in your car so you're not scrambling to unwrap your granola bar at a red light.

4. Take Care of Your Eyes

Did you know 90 percent of a driver's reaction depends on vision? Vision matters for all drivers, regardless of age. So please remember, if your vision is impaired, so is your ability to drive safely. When it comes to driving, good vision doesn't just mean you can read the stop signs or differentiate green lights from red lights. There are multiple aspects of our vision essential to safe and prudent driving. The American Optometric Association recommends that adults over 61 receive comprehensive eye examples annually and adults 18-60 at least every two years. So next time you're at your regularly scheduled comprehensive eye exam, ask your provider if you have any problems that might impact your driving and how these issues can be addressed.

For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking a driving refresher course, such as the AARP Smart Driver course -- AARP Driver Safety's flagship offering and the nation's first and largest refresher course designed specifically for older drivers. The AARP Smart Driver course is available in a classroom and online, in both English and Spanish. In some states, you may even be eligible for a multi-year insurance discount upon completion of the course. For more information, visit www.aarp.org/drive.