Winter Walking Safety

walk_like_a_penguinWinter came early in many parts of Canada this year. Freezing temperatures, snow and ice often create hazardous conditions that make it challenging for many Canadians to stay active.

To help you cope with the challenges of winter walking here are some tips from the Ontario Senior’s Secretariat, Canada Safety Council and Women’s College Hospital:

Plan ahead:

  • Keep sidewalks, steps and driveways well lit. Consider installing sensor lights.
  • Spread salt, sand or non-clumping cat litter on walkways to keep them free of ice. Carry a small bag of salt, sand or non-clumping cat litter in your pocket to spread on icy patches when out walking.
  • Carry your personal identification and a cell phone when walking alone.
  • Ask a friend or a neighbour to come along with you.
  • Plan your route. Let others know where you are going and when you will be back if you are walking alone.
  • Give yourself enough time to get where you are going without rushing.
  • Wear bright colours or add reflective material to your clothing.
  • Consider using a cane with an ice pick to help with balance (be sure to change it back indoors, picks can be slippery on hard surfaces).
  • Always replace the rubber tip on the cane before it is worn down.
  • The Canadian Physiotherapy Association suggests wearing the footwear you plan to use while walking when you adjust the height of your walking aid. To get the right height, hold the cane in the hand opposite your weak or injured side to maintain proper arm swing, improve weight shifting, and encourage a normal walking pattern. When measuring the proper height of the cane, stand tall and place the tip of the cane on the floor, approximately 15 centimetres away from your foot. With arms resting comfortably at your sides, adjust the height of the cane so that its handle is level with your wrist crease.
  • Speak to your doctor, pharmacist or local public health department about how to use your cane properly

Be Active:

  • Keep moving in the winter months to stay strong, help your balance and give you more energy.
  • Do indoor balance and stretching exercises.
  • Consider joining a balance and strength class such as Tai Chi.

Wear the Gear:

  • Cover your ears, head and fingers to avoid frostbite.
  • Wear sunglasses and a visor to reduce glare from sun and snow.
  • Dress in layers to stay warm.
  • Wear well insulated, waterproof boots with a wide low heel and a thick non-slip tread. Remove snow from boots before entering a building.
  • Consider a hip protector (a lightweight belt or pant with shields to guard the hips). It can help protect the hips against fractures and give added confidence.

Walking on Ice:

  • On icy surfaces, take small flat-footed steps.
  • Walk at a slower pace.
  • First, slow down and think about your next move. Keeping your body as loose as possible, spread your feet to more than a foot apart to provide a base of support. This will help stabilize you as you walk. Next, keep your knees loose and don’t let them lock. If you can, let them bend a bit. This will keep your centre of gravity lower to the ground, which further stabilizes the body. Now you are ready to take a step. Make the step small, placing your whole foot down at once. Then shift your weight very slowly to this foot and bring your other foot to meet it the same way. Keep a wide base of support.
  • Some people prefer to drag their feet or shuffle them. If this feels better to you, then do so. Just remember to place your whole foot on the ice at once and keep your base of support approximately one foot wide.

Often community services offer help with snow removal and transportation. Contact your local municipality for information.

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