( from “Effect of Exercise on Speed of Behaviour in Older Drivers”, Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 19.1, 48-61 (January 2011) ).
Researchers at the University of Évora in Portugal studied the effects of an exercise program on the speed of behaviour of older adults while driving. Speed of behaviour encompasses reaction time (RT) to environmental stimuli and speed of execution of a task. Speed of behaviour is known to decrease as we age and in driving, this can be especially detrimental for obvious reasons. Twenty-six community dwelling drivers aged between 55 and 78 were assigned to either a control (non-exercise group) or the study group who exercised for 1 hour, 3 times a week for 8 weeks. Baseline tests were performed to measure brake RT, peripheral RT (detecting a light beaming into the windshield at the side), choice RT (choosing between two external stimuli such as braking and detecting an outside light stimulus), and a dual task RT (where participants had to apply the brake while performing a mental calculation at the same time). The exercise intervention consisted of a program with a number of eternal stimuli being given which required a fast reaction while continuing to walk and other physical activities such as stepping, reaching, throwing, etc. Thus there was a physical as well as a cognitive element to the program. After 8 weeks during re-test, improvement to speed of behaviour was significant in all measures for the exercise group. For the control group, not only was there no improvement, but there was decline in speed in all but one measure. Thus the researchers concluded that older drivers’ speed of behaviour can be improved through exercise and that exercise programs should include activities that stimulate cognitive and perceptive abilities.