Physical Wellness

Did You Know?
Physical wellbeing efforts shouldn’t be limited to health risk assessments.

Physical wellness efforts shouldn’t be limited to health risk assessments. Exercise, healthy eating habits, and getting enough sleep are critical aspects to achieving a high level of physical wellness. Physical wellness has a direct effect on driving behaviors. Elements of physical wellness such as vision, hearing, and cardiovascular health play a large role in how daily activities are executed including driving behaviors. A safe driver is alert, attentive and able to react to their surroundings when necessary. Being aware of your physical health and how it affects your driving can put you on the road to be a safer driver.

The following section contains information regarding each of these elements, workplace materials for employers to educate employees, and suggested actions employers can take to help their employees to achieve a higher level of physical wellness.

Vision

Corrected Vision

Vision matters for all drivers, regardless of age. Ninety percent of a driver’s reaction depends on vision, if vision is impaired, so is the ability to drive safely. For this reason, vision is tested when obtaining a driver license. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, vision is measured in four different ways.

  • The clarity of vision.
  • The visual field is the width of an area the eye can see when focusing on a central point.
  • Color vision is how accurately color is defined. Color differentiation allows drivers to identify traffic signals and brake lights.
  • Contrast sensitivity is the ability to discern between objects. The better the contrast sensitivity, the better ability to see pedestrians, lights and road signs in bad weather and at night.
Driver confirming vision correction is accurate
Eye Fatigue

Loss of vision, even minimal loss or impaired vision can affect your driving. Vision impairment in any of these four areas may prevent drivers from the following:

  • Identifying vulnerable road users that may be sharing the road such as bicyclists, motorcycles, and pedestrians crossing the street.
  • Accurately reading road signs, traffic lights and traffic signals.
  • Properly identifying road barriers and other roadway designs to properly judge appropriate driving speed and distance between objects.

The dangers of driving with vision issues can be even greater when driving at night or in inclement weather. At night, lighting is poor and more complex visual tasks are required for safe driving. Awareness of common vision-related changes and problems can help drivers stay safe while driving.

Blurry Vision

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  • Good vision is critical when driving.
  • The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that normal, age-related eye changes can affect your vision and your ability to drive safely. These changes include presbyopia, which may impact your ability to see your dashboard or navigation system, and dry-eye, which can reduce the quality of your vision at night.
  • The Academy of Ophthalmology recommends having regular eye exams can help your ophthalmologist find these changes early and treat conditions promptly before they cause irreversible vision loss.
  • A recent study reported that in 2015, a total of 1.02 million people were blind, and approximately 3.22 million people in the United States had VI (best-corrected visual acuity in the better-seeing eye), whereas up to 8.2 million people had VI due to uncorrected refractive error. By 2050, the numbers of these conditions are projected to double to approximately 2.01 million people with blindness, 6.95 million people with VI, and 16.4 million with VI due to uncorrected refractive error.

According to The National Opinion Research Center (NORC):

  • The current population with vision loss includes nearly 3.1 million impaired and almost 1.4 million blind in 2014 and project these populations will grow substantially in the future.
  • By 2032 the visually impaired population aged 40 and older will increase by 66 percent to nearly 5.1 million and the blind population will increase 59 percent to 2.2 million.
  • NORC also estimates that by 2050, the impaired and blind populations are projected to reach 7.3 million (2.4 times higher than in 2014) and 3.1 million (2.3 times higher than in 2014), respectively and the number of impaired or blind among the population aged 90 and older is forecast to increase nearly 3.5 fold by 2050.

Hearing

Woman protecting ears from loud noises

Hearing loss can affect daily routine tasks, even driving. Careful driving requires good hearing to make informed and, often very quick decisions to navigate safely. Hearing loss can impede a driver’s ability to hear important safety cues such as sirens, horns, or other nearby vehicles. Good hearing is critical to perform the following routine driving actions:

  • Give way to emergency vehicles;
  • Respond to motorcycles that may be sharing the roadway;
  • Respond to other cues to react to avoid potential dangers on the road.
Hearing distractions while driving
Ambulance in rear-view mirror

Street noise outside the car and the hum of traffic can also make it difficult for normal-hearing drivers to detect signals, for drivers with hearing loss, background noise presents an even greater challenge. In addition, listening to the radio at loud volumes and wearing headphones while driving impairs the ability to hear these important safety cues. Headphones should never be worn while driving!

Distracted hearing is unsafe for driving

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  • According to “Helping Me Hear”, recreational noise is a leading source of hearing problems.
  • Employers are likely not aware of the scope of hearing loss among employees, assuming only the retired population is at risk.
  • Epic Hearing Healthcare reports:
    • Approximately 30 percent of employees report they suspect they have hearing loss but have not sought treatment.
    • One in five people who could benefit from a hearing aid wear one.
    • Smoking, obesity and medication (including common pain relievers) all increase the risk of hearing loss.
    • The majority of hearing loss can be easily managed with the right access to hearing care and hearing aid treatment.
    • Older people are at higher risk, but hearing loss is common across ages.
    • Men are affected more than women.
    • 1 in 6 people (18-44) have a diagnosed hearing loss.
    • Hearing loss hurts. Untreated hearing loss leads to:
      • fatigue, stress and depression
      • social rejection and loneliness
      • risks to personal safety
      • impaired memory and learning
    • Noise is the most common (and preventable) cause of hearing loss.
    • Smoking, obesity and medication (including common pain relievers) all increase your risk of hearing loss.
    • People lose around $1000 in income for every 10% increase in hearing loss
    • Less than 1 in 4 had their hearing checked in the past 2 years.

Cardiovascular Health

A healthy heart

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Cardiovascular health affects driving performance. Complications from cardiovascular disease can cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle without warning and thereby lead to a crash. In addition, according to the National Institute of Health, an unhealthy or deconditioned heart leads to fatigue. The physical and mental demands required to deal with road traffic can be strenuous for those who may be physically unhealthy.

In a survey of more than 88,200 drivers who underwent the Commercial Driver Medical Exam (CDME) in 2012, 84 percent were considered overweight, obese or morbidly obese. One in four drivers were found to be morbidly obese, a condition that makes one more at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, heart disease, and strokes. This survey also found that the health of commercial truck drivers seems to be to be deteriorating over time. The incidence of these drivers with health conditions including sleep apnea, diabetes, and high blood pressure has increased steadily since 2005. In addition, the percentage of commercial truck drivers with high blood pressure more than doubled from 12 percent to 25.3 percent between 2005 and 2012. Drivers with sleep apnea spiked from 1.1 percent in 2005 to 8 percent seven years later. The percentage of drivers with three or more health conditions jumped from 2.7 percent to 8.8 percent.

walking the tightrope of cardiovascular health

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According to the American Heart Association:

  • CVD is prevalent among the working population; 53% of those with CVD are less than 60 years of age.
  • CVD is a leading cause of death and permanent disability among workers, resulting in an average loss of seven years of life expectancy.
  • Cardiovascular disease cost the U.S. more than $329 Billion each year, more than any other health condition:
    • $199 Billion direct costs (medical and pharmacy costs.
    • $130 billion indirect costs (productivity loss from premature mortality.
    • $53.2 billion for high blood pressure alone.
  • Cardiovascular disease leads to an average yearly cost per employee over a week in absences and $1,100 more in lost productivity.

Physical Activity

physical activity leads to healthier driving

Exercising regularly helps to improve flexibility and range of motion, making it easier to turn your body and head in order to check blind spots while changing lanes or making turns. 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. A 2011 study published in the the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity researched the effects of exercise on the ability of older drivers to respond quickly to challenging situations. The results determined that on-the-road driving tasks were improved. In addition to making driving movements easier, physical activity improves cognitive function, ability to focus, and alertness, all critical for driver safety.

Increasing employees’ physical activity can create a healthier workforce, promote healthier drivers, increase employees’ productivity, and decrease employees’ risk of developing costly and debilitating chronic diseases. According to the CDC, evidence suggests that physical activity interventions in adults who are overweight or have obesity may be more effective in increasing physical activity if they have a physical activity component that includes activity monitors to provide regular feedback (i.e., number of steps, calories used) along with instruction, such as counseling or Web-based education.

Jogging is a good option for physical activity
Man taking break after physical workout

Increasing employees’ physical activity can create a healthier workforce and healthier drivers, increase employees’ productivity, and decrease employees’ risk of developing costly and debilitating chronic diseases. According to the CDC, evidence suggests that physical activity interventions in adults who are overweight or have obesity may be more effective in increasing physical activity if they have a physical activity component that includes activity monitors to provide regular feedback (i.e., number of steps, calories used) along with instruction, such as counseling or Web-based education.

Get the Facts!

The CDC reports:

Physical Activity Materials for the Workplace

Click on the following to download Physical Activity educational materials:

Fact Sheet

Resources

Infographics

Smoking

people turning to ash at the end of a cigarette

In 2016, the National Health Interview Survey estimated 15.4 percent of employed adults were current smokers. According to the CDC, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. Smoking has been found to dramatically increase your chances of developing several health issues including lung cancer, COPD, heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, oropharyngeal cancer, esophageal cancer, cataracts, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and several other health issues.

“Vaping” or the use of “e-cigarettes” has been socially considered “safer” than cigarettes, and the use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed. However, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, vaping has recently been recognized as a significant contributor to lung injury and even death. The CDC announced as of November 13th, 2019,  2172 cases of lung injury associated with use of e-cigarette, or vaping products have been reported from 49 states (all but Alaska), DC, & 2 U.S. territories (Puerto Rico & USVI). Forty-two deaths were confirmed in 24 states and Washington D.C. The majority of the illnesses have been linked to vaping products containing THC, especially those bought off the street or from illicit dealers (see Drugged Driving). Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of at least 113 cannabinoids identified in cannabis. THC is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.

An activity such as smoking is not only a large contributor to poor cardiovascular health but is also a distraction when carried out while driving. Smoking also acts as a primary distraction in the vehicle while driving. Lighting a cigarette, putting out a cigarette, and the action of smoking a cigarette all lead to distractions in the vehicle. These actions result in taking your eyes off the road and at least one hand off the wheel for a duration of time. Smoking while driving is not only a visual and manual distraction, but also a cognitive distraction since you are concentrating on the actions involving your cigarette rather than driving.

Person breaking cigarette in half

Get the Facts!

What Employers Can Do

Collecton of diverse individuals

Employers can utilize the materials provided above to promote physical wellness in the workplace.

General Wellness

  • Encourage employees to take actions that will increase their energy and vitality and ease work tasks and the strain of driving long hours. Actions include  reaching a healthy weight, being more active, quitting smoking, getting to bed earlier, or starting and maintaining other habits of good health.
  • Provide written policies and support from leadership to encourage health promotion in the workplace.
  • Develop partnerships and social support from the community.
  • Motivate employees to improve health.
  • Provide strong active and visible support from all levels of the company.
  • Reach out to those employees in at-risk categories.
  • Offer vaccinations for preventable diseases.

Vision and hearing

  • Offer vision and hearing screenings to employees on-site, at community gathering places, and in corporate offices.
  • Limit noise exposure.
  • Provide insurance coverage for vision, hearing (including hearing aids), and smoking cessation assistance.
  • Limit noise exposure and provide hearing protection when noise exposure can’t be reduced.
  • Make sure employees are covered. Hearing aids-the most common treatment for hearing loss, can cost thousands but are rarely covered by standard medical insurance.

Cardiovascular health

  • Provide blood pressure, and other physical screenings in the workplace.
  • Build a culture of health. Fit physical activity into employee’s day to day workflow.
  • Implement a “Get Moving” Policy:
    • Educate employees on problems associated with sitting for extended periods of time, and encourage them to stand up and move around for a few minutes throughout the day.
    • Activities could include taking a short walk around the building, doing some simple stretches, walking a few flights of stairs, or anything that gets them active for a few minutes throughout their workday.
    • Though it is important to note that this “policy” idea is intended to provide permission to employees to get up and moving, it is not meant to be policed.
  • Encourage standing desks and foot peddlers at desks.
  • Provide organized physical activity programs.
  • Provide environmental supports for physical activity.
  • Provide lifestyle self-management program with advice on physical activity.

Smoking

  • Remove barriers to accessing tobacco treatments (e.g., copays).
  • Refer tobacco users to cessation Quitline.
  • Provide/subsidize tobacco cessation counseling.
  • Provide insurance coverage for cessation medications.
  • Inform employees about tobacco cessation medication and counseling coverage/programs.
  • Hold informational meetings regarding wellness resources.
  • Display “no smoking” and other signs.
  • Create a policy banning all tobacco use at worksite.
  • Implement wellness policies within the workplace (e.g., smoke-free or tobacco-free policies).
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