I was with a group of friends this week, and while driving in some pretty heavy traffic, a car suddenly whizzed by us at a high rate of speed, and was so close to us that my friend and I who were in the back seat gasped at the same time!   Our driver assured us that she saw the car coming, but the two of us experienced a type of “panicked” reflex at that exact moment. 

Reflexes are involuntary or automatic reactions that our bodies do in response to something that we aren’t even thinking about.  We are born with “hard-wired” reflexes.  Most are located in the spine, but some are in the motor centers of the brain.  These reflexes work to keep our bodies safe from injuries.   Have you ever felt that you were about to fall, when you started twisting your body and putting your hands out to regain your balance?   What if you were carrying something valuable, and you had to choose whether to drop it as you are falling, or hold on to it?  Your brain’s conscious motor centers will take control, and you can modify the reflex action and keep your grip on the object you are carrying. However, you are still probably going to fall. 

Babies have a vast amount of reflexes.   They stretch, grip your finger, yawn, suck, and blink their eyes, which are all involuntary actions.  When you tickle the bottom of their feet, see how they straighten them out, and then curl them up again.  They throw their arms up in the air swiftly when they are moved certain ways.  A physical therapist once told me to observe how a baby, cat or dog will stretch naturally, while we adults don’t, unless we think about it.  

If someone throws something at you at work, how quickly do you react?  If your concentration is broken by a sudden action of a co-worker, are you ready to respond?  Jobs that are high-stress, or ones that cause physical or mental fatigue can cause us to sometimes have a delayed reaction.  If you get too close to a power tool, though, your reflexes tell you to pull away pretty pronto!  We should keep ourselves fit and alert for our job duties.  There is no room for substance or alcohol abuse in the workplace; either would cause us to have slower reaction time, in addition to breaking the safety rules of our employer.  

Our reflexes must work well when we are behind the wheel of a vehicle.  Statistics show that texting while driving is as dangerous as driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  While you are looking at that smart phone screen, you are losing valuable time to react to a car or truck that may suddenly stop or pull out in front of you.  What if a child runs in front of you and you are so busy making a call or texting that you are unable to stop in time?  There are too many risks that aren’t worth taking, and you should never depend on your reflex time to save the day! 

Some people are born with faster reflexes than others.  Electrical impulses actually travel more quickly through the nerves.  Practice can speed up nerve conditioning – this is the key to reaction time, whether in athletics, learning skills, or work.  With much practice, a movement almost mimics a reflex, according to experts.  Also, our reflexes may slow with age.  These also vary from person to person, in regard to reflex and reaction time.  You can either slow down, or reverse  the effects of aging by staying physically active.  Remember, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!” 

Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School