Driving is clearly about more than just getting from A to B, with 62% of us saying that we drive just for fun. Vehicles bring communities together, give us independence and the freedom to go and explore wherever we fancy. Researchers at Colombia University in the USA examined the health and wellbeing of older adults after they stopped driving and found that it nearly doubled the risk of depressive symptoms, mostly because they were losing their independence. It has also been claimed that getting behind the wheel can reduce the risk of dementia and halt the ageing process by boosting cognitive function.
Space to think
Researchers have now found a number of other mental health and wellbeing benefits. Professor Lynne Pearce from Lancaster University has discussed the psychological benefits of driving, saying that “automotive psychologists have shown that the cognitive demands of driving preoccupy the brain in ways that calm anxieties.”. She talks about how long drives give her the time and space to work through issues, as driving frees up parts of the brain that allow us to think productively.
What’s more, driving gives you an adrenaline rush. One study revealed that regularly driving a sports car caused higher buzz moments (peak moments that play a key role in our wellbeing) than kissing and watching football. Not everyone can afford a sports car but driving a nice vehicle can contribute to overall wellbeing and become part of your everyday wellness routine.
Whilst we’re on the topic of wellness, driving is a great opportunity to practise mindfulness, which is a form of mediation in which we focus on our surroundings and the present moment in order to be better attuned with our thoughts and emotions, making us feel more relaxed. Not only is practising mindfulness the safest way to drive, but it can transform your commute. It can help you feel more focused, better able to concentrate and give you more clarity in your thinking and decision making. Arriving at the office calm and refreshed can make a huge difference to your day, and since we commute twice a day, it’s a great opportunity to form a new habit. The idea is that you are consciously aware of your body, what you see and what you hear.
If you’re feeling particularly stressed, a change of environment is the perfect antidote, especially if your workplace causes you tension. Driving somewhere else creates literal and figurative space between you and your problem. Turn up the music to make you feel even calmer, as researchers found that drivers listening to music were more relaxed than those who didn’t listen to anything.
Driving is also a great way of prohibiting our screen time. Nowadays, there is constant pressure to be available to everyone at all times. This, coupled with the addictive and negative nature of social media means that there is little time in the day when our eyes aren’t glued to a screen. Taking a leisurely drive is the perfect way to have a short digital detox, which can improve brain function, sleep, and mental health.
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