The Importance of Good Reflexes and Reaction Times as We Get Older


Reflexes are automatic, involuntary actions to a stimulus. These subconscious actions do not involve the brain.

Reaction time to a stimulus involves the brain, the conscious mind, and is an important part of cognitive functioning.

Reflexes defend the body before you even realise the problem on a conscious level. They happen faster than a reaction to stimuli. For instance, if you don’t know something is hot and touch it, a reflex action kicks in, and you withdraw your hand. A doctor taps your knee with a hammer, and it jerks upwards. You didn’t decide to do that movement; it was a reflex action.

Reaction time is the brain’s ability to detect, process and react to minor or major happenings in our lives, like driving skills, playing sports or turning off a whistling kettle. You need quick action to avoid dangerous occurrences, like knocking a pot of boiling water off the stove.

Perception

You either see, hear or feel the stimuli. Someone keeps ringing the doorbell.

Processing

Your brain processes the situation, focuses on the information, understands what’s happening and prepares to respond.

Reaction

Good motor control is essential for enabling a quick response to the stimuli. You hurry to see who’s at the front door. 

  • Detection – you either see, hear or feel the stimulus, i.e., a car pulls out in front of you.
  • Process – your brain processes the information and readies for action.
  • Reaction – You swerve or hit the brakes to avoid an accident.

The ability to react well can deteriorate as we age. Certain medical conditions can also impair our reaction to stimuli.

People with auditory or visual impairment can have an altered sense of reaction time. Those with Alzheimer’s disease can have poor processing skills, altering their ability to react. Others battling Parkinson’s disease or similar, often have their motor ability affected and have slower reaction times. Brain injury and stroke patients will also find a delay in their response times. 

Yes, you can improve your reaction times with practice, which will also improve your reflex actions.

Here’s a simple exercise:

Place a simple pool noodle upright in one hand. Let it go, then catch it, as in the video below. Or, juggling, anyone? Simple, fun processes can help improve your reaction times.

My participants report their response times for tasks are improving and they’re enjoying the challenge.

There are other ways to help your reaction times, if you’re willing to try them. To continue the discussion and find out more about your brain and body, join the Me Active Facebook community.

How good are your reflex actions? Can you count on your instinctive reflexes to kick in before you have time to think danger through? Have you worked on improving your reaction times? What exercises have you done and what was the effect? Please share with our 60 & Me sisters! 

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