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Staying Sharp

Safety Spotlight: Aging Gracefully

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Getting older does not mean you have to be a bystander when it comes to your well-being. In fact, you should be an active participant in the process and aim to stay healthy and sharp. There are a number of steps you can take do so this.

Self-assessment is one of the most important decision-making skills you should hone and honor—you owe it to yourself and to your passengers.

Medical Care

Airplanes get annual inspections, and it’s a good idea for pilots, too. Even if there’s no cause for concern, get a yearly physical starting no later than age 50. It’s the best way to catch problems before they get out of hand. Of course, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider for any medical questions. If you have a family history that points to the possibility of age-related illness you may need to be under regular medical care earlier on in life.

How am I Feeling?

You wouldn’t take a malfunctioning aircraft aloft. Keeping honest tabs on your own health (and self-grounding if necessary) isn’t just an FAA requirement—it’s good pilot sense. Self-assessment is one of the most important decision-making skills you should hone and honor— you owe it to yourself and to your passengers.

Head to Toe Preflight Checklist

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Am I Good to Go?

Acronyms such as “PAVE,” “IMSAFE,” AND “5P’s can help assess your planned flight and physical state. But, it’s not always easy to be objective when the assessment is based on our self-perception. This video from the Medical Self-Assessment: A Pilot’s Guide to Flying Healthy online course explains.


Listen to some sage advice from aging pilots on the need to self-assess no matter your age.

Physical Activity

Keeping fit is one of the keys to a longer, healthier life. The earlier you start, the better. Exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, builds muscle, and increases flexibility. These are all things that help the physical side of flying.

  • Endurance and aerobic exercises—These increase the overall health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Having greater endurance can improve your stamina for the tasks you need to do while flying.
    • Activities include walking, running, biking, and swimming (biking and swimming are recommended for those that may have knee and back pain). Participate in an activity for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Strength and resistance exercises—These build your muscles and also increase your metabolism, helping to keep your weight and blood sugar in check. Studies suggest that strength exercises may also help prevent osteoporosis.
    • Exercises include squats, pushups, bicep curls, triceps extensions, front shoulder raises, and planks. Try to perform resistance exercises two to three days per week with at least 24 hours of rest between sessions. Work at an intensity that feels somewhat hard but is still achievable. Start out slowly and work up to 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Exercise Checklist

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Proficiency Plan

Mental exercise in the form of staying proficient is as important as physical activity. Recency of experience keeps you sharp in overall airmanship regardless of age. Here are a few ideas:

  • Recurrent training—Take an organized approach to recurrent training. Set a schedule—an IPC every six month, for example—and stick to it. Look for a good instructor who works well with you and isn’t afraid to throw some challenges your way.
  • Continued education—Push yourself a little. The brain is like a muscle: It atrophies with disuse. Get involved in new activities, start working on a new rating, read books—anything to keep your mind active.
  • Online aviation safety programs—An excellent way to keep your head in the aviation game is to review ASI’s online safety videos, podcasts, and quizzes. These include the popular accident case studies, real pilot stories, and pilot safety announcements. You can find these products grouped by topic under ASI’s Safety Centers. They’re fun, free, and may qualify you for AOPA’s exclusive accident forgiveness program. Also, see the resources listed in the “Rules to Live By”  section.
  • Flight simulators—Use a flight simulator. Mass-market PC flight simulators (like Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane) are a surprisingly inexpensive and realistic way to stay sharp—particularly for instrument flying.
  • Hitching a ride—If it’s not practical to fly as much as you’d like, see if you can tag along with other pilots, or get them to share costs with you. Even if you’re not handling the controls, you’re still out there aviating.

Maintaining Well-Being

When it comes to your health and flying safely, be in charge and proactive. Pilots share their thoughts in this video.

Keeping fit is one of the keys to a longer, healthier life. The earlier you start, the better.