Helpful tips for winter walking

When the air is crisp and the ground covered with snow, there’s nothing like taking a walk to enjoy the beauty of the season — and walking is one of the best ways to keep fit. On the other hand, winter can be a challenging time of year to get out and about. Freezing rain, icy surfaces and piles of hard-packed snow pose a hazard for innocent pedestrians.

A few simple measures can make it safer to walk outdoors in winter. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), in 2018, seniors accounted for more than half of all injury-related hospitalizations among Canadians. Women made up almost two-thirds of seniors’ hospitalizations. CIHI data shows that 4 out of 5 injury hospitalizations involving seniors were due to falls. Over the past 3 years, injury hospitalizations among seniors due to falls increased by 9 per cent, or about 8,900 people, the largest increase among hospitalizations for seniors. Just one bad fall on ice can have long-term consequences. These include: chronic pain; a disabling injury that may mean loss of independence; or fear of another fall, which discourages a healthy, active lifestyle.

The Canada Safety Council offers seniors some practical suggestions to stay active in winter.

Choose a good pair of winter boots. For warmth and stability look for these features: well insulated and waterproof; thick, non-slip tread sole; wide, low heels; and light in weight. Ice grippers on footwear can help you walk on hard packed snow and ice.

But be careful! Grippers become dangerously slippery and must be removed before walking on smooth surfaces such as stone, tile and ceramic. Before buying grippers, ensure you are able to attach and remove them from your boots, this is best done sitting down. Use a cane to help with balance. Have it fitted to the right height for you. When your cane is held upside down, the end should be at wrist level. Speak to your doctor, pharmacist or local public health department about how to use your cane properly. Attach an ice pick at the end of your cane. Cane picks will be slippery on hard surfaces so be sure to flip it back as you get indoors. Picks are available at most drug stores. If you need further support use a walker. Sometimes the cost can be covered by government programs so talk to the pharmacy or medical supply store. Help other road users see you by wearing bright colours or adding reflective material to clothing.  Prevent heat loss by wearing a warm hat, scarf, and mittens or gloves. Dressing in layers may also keep you warmer. Carry a small bag of grit, sand or non clumping cat litter in your pocket or handbag to sprinkle when you are confronted with icy sidewalks, steps, etc. Ask a passer-by to help you cross the icy surface.

-Debbie MacDonald Moynes