SHN’s Carla Holyk, BSc. PT, Professional Practice Leader, Rehabilitation, talks about six ways to stay safe all winter long.

Since the pandemic began in March, many of us have turned to neighbourhood walks and appreciating the great outdoors to help us stay active and social. As we get out and enjoy the beautiful fall weather, it’s a good idea to start thinking about how we can continue to safely walk outdoors throughout the winter months.

One in three Canadians over 65 years fall each year; slippery winter conditions can make the risk of a fall and injury even higher. But no need to lock yourself away for the winter! You don’t want to miss out on being active, and socializing with your neighbours (physically distanced, of course!). Staying cooped up in your house can actually make you weaker and increase your chance of falling.

Ninety per cent of injuries caused by falls are preventable. Here’s how:

  1. Improve your flexibility, strength, and balance. A physiotherapist can create a customized exercise program for you to get you in shape so you can be safe and active. Physiotherapists work in community clinics and many make house calls. You can also look for falls prevention programs in your area. Click here for a list of programs in Scarborough.
  2. Stay warm. When you are cold, your muscles become tense, which may increase your risk of falling. When going outside in cold weather, dress warmly so that your muscles stay relaxed.
  3. Don’t take shortcuts. Make sure that you stay on paths that have been cleared and salted or sanded, wear shoes or boots with good soles, and if you use a cane or walker, make sure the ends have new large rubber tips or even ice spikes. This will all help with traction on slippery surfaces.
  4. Take extra care getting out of a car. Plant both feet on the ground and hold onto the door frame to stand slowly. If you have a walker, ask someone to set it up for you so it is ready once you have stood. You may want to keep some sand or kitty litter in your car to sprinkle on the ground before you stand.
  5. Take your time and pay attention. Walk like a penguin by taking short steps with your toes turned out slightly. Keep your hands out of your pockets and wear a backpack to keep your hands free. This will make you more stable. Look ahead at the ground by moving your eyes rather than moving your whole head so you don’t throw yourself off balance.
  6. Take a friend, or at least a cell phone, with you. You should always have a way of calling for help if you do slip and fall. If you fall, don’t try to get up right away. Take a moment to see how you’re feeling and get up slowly once you are ready. If you hit your head, call your doctor for a check-up.

Stay safe and keep moving!