Don't let fear of falling keep you from exercising in winter.

‘Tis the season to be falling! And nothing ruins your holidays or plans for outdoor activities like a big old cast on your arm or leg. In fact, a back injury from falling on ice sent my mother to Florida for her retirement—completely changing the last twenty years of her life!

True, when we think of fall prevention, we usually think of seniors. After all, we are at higher risk of losing our balance or tripping as we get older.

But did you know that during the winter, if we live where it snows or ices over, we’re all at higher risk? When the pavement becomes slushy or icy the slippery surface doesn’t care how old you are! And, if you live where there are hills and valleys in your topography, like I do, you need to be especially careful.

The young may be fearless and oblivious to the danger. I often see runners on the streets and in the park, regardless of the weather. Good for them, up to a point; a broken wrist or ankle can throw a real monkey wrench in your jogging program. And what about those ladies all dressed up in sky-high heels–fashion victims about to become falling victims as well?

The predictions for a dire winter have so far pretty much failed to materialize in some areas of the country. But if and when they do, there are ways to reduce the chance of mishaps. Fortunately, you don’t need to become a hermit and stay in all winter, if you follow these practical tips:

Work on Your Strength, Balance and Reflexes

  • Begin or maintain an active lifestyle that includes at least 30 minutes of moderate endurance exercise (such as brisk walking) each day.
  • Include strengthening and balance exercises (pictured) at least every other day. Your core (trunk) muscles are especially important.
  • Think about swimming as your exercise. A recent study shows that swimming reduced falls in in men more than did other exercises. Swimming is a great way to build strong core muscles.

 

Plan Ahead

  • Leave extra time so you don’t rush and aren’t tempted to take dangerous shortcuts.
  • Walk where the pavement has been cleared.
  • If the surface is icy, walk on the sides, on grass or dirt where there is more traction underfoot.
  • Buy shoes that have soles that provide traction—rubber is usually best—and with no or low heels.
  • Add traction devices to your shoes or boots such as Stabilicers or Yaktrax (pictured).
  • Try to remain unencumbered with packages so you can use your arms for balance—use a backpack for carrying instead.
  • Consider buying a walking stick or walking poles.
  • Limit alcohol consumption, especially at night.

While Walking

  • Be conscious and mindful of your environment; not distracted by talking or looking at your phone.
  • Take smaller steps than usual, and walk slowly, with bent knees.
  • Take advantage of handrails if available.
  • If in doubt, test the area in front of you by tapping it with your toe.
  • Watch out for “black ice” –a thin sheet of transparent ice.

If You Start to Fall….

  • Avoid the reflex to break your fall with your hands or arms, unless this will prevent your head from making contact with the ground.
  • Roll with the fall, preferably backwards instead of forwards.
  • Let go of any packages you’re carrying—don’t worry about damaging them. They can be replaced—you can’t be!

These precautions may seem like another bother, but remember: Injuries from falls can be deadly for seniors—but they can also lead to long-term health problems for anyone, not to mention time away from work, family, and the other good things in life. You don’t need to hibernate all winter to be safe—you just need to be informed.

2 Responses to “Preventing Falls in Winter”

  1. Good tips all, Nancy! Thank you!

    Reply

  2. thebest way to walk …all seasons is heel/toe. Heal first then toe. Focusing on this really does help. Thank you for your info above. Marion

    Reply

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