Fitness & Driving
In order to drive safely we need to be:
- Physically fit. We need to be fit enough to reach for and buckle our seat belt, turn to check blind spots, grip and control the steering wheel, depress the correct foot pedals and operate controls such as those for headlights and windshield wipers.
- Mentally fit. We need to be able to remember directions, recognize traffic signs, and react to all the incoming data that we have to process quickly in order to drive, such as what other cars are doing, when traffic lights change, and when people suddenly step out in front of us without warning.
CAA has gathered information and tools to help drivers keep physically and mentally fit. Better yet, take the time to explore what fitness facilities and exercise classes are available in your community.
As we age, flexibility and strength can decrease, which can have an impact on our ability to drive. It can become more challenging to look around to see if a car is in our blind spot prior to changing lanes, to turn the wheel sharply to avoid an impact, or to brake quickly.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) suggests that Canadians 65 years or older take part in at least 2.5 hours of aerobic activity each week, spread out into sessions of 10 minutes or more. It also suggests it is beneficial to add muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups at least twice a week, to help maintain posture and balance. More information on PHAC’s fitness guidelines can be found here.
Simple Flexibility Exercises for Senior Drivers
These exercises were designed to improve flexibility as it relates to driving. Flexibility varies from person to person, so it’s important that when someone is doing these exercises they only stretch as far as is comfortable, move slowly at first and stop if there is any pain. To print off a copy of these exercises to make them easier to use, click below.
Always consult a physician before beginning any new exercise program.
There are also exercise classes (many developed especially for seniors if that’s preferred) in most communities that can be found by searching on the internet, contacting your local recreational centre, or by calling your doctor’s office.
As we get older, our brains need more time to process information, which can affect our ability to read traffic signs and react to things like pedestrians and emergency vehicles. And although mature judgment, years of driving experience and good driving habits can often compensate for some diminished cognitive abilities, it’s still a good idea to take steps to keep our brains fit.
On average, the human brain begins to slow down slightly around age 30, but we can slow that decline by actively engaging our brain in mentally stimulating activities.
Activities such as playing cards and doing jigsaw puzzles, crosswords or Sudoku are fun, interactive and they help keep our mind sharp. There are also online memory and mind stimulation games available.
One age-related disorder that can impair our ability to drive is dementia, and it is important that family members recognize what the signs of dementia are, so they can take appropriate steps to keep their loved ones safe. More information on dementia can be found here.