Art Aiello is a writer and editor based in Waukesha, WI.
The right footwear and a focus on balance can prevent serious injuries.
While the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving often prompt debates about whether or not it’s too early to think about the Christmas holidays, this time of year is a good time to think about preventing slips and falls in winter weather. According to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), slips and falls account for more than one million visits to the emergency room each year. Among seniors between 65 and 84 years of age, the NFSI said that falls are the second leading cause of death from an injury. For those 85 and older, they are the leading cause of death, the NFSI said. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure that every step you take this winter is a safe and stable one.
To begin, consider your footwear. For winter walking, it’s best to put away your sandals and fair-weather shoes and invest in something a bit heavier duty. Livestrong.com said that a hiking boot-style shoe with a thick outsole that has a deep tread for traction will help keep your feet underneath you in snowy or icy weather. Ensure that the outsole is made of a waterproof material, such as rubber, to prevent moisture from getting inside. Such a sole will also give your foot flexibility to adjust to changing terrain.
If you expect to be walking a lot on icy surfaces, or if you would just like a bit of extra security, then you might want to consider adding ice cleats to your shoes. These can be put on the bottom of your winter shoes, or you can add them to your year-round street shoes to give you traction on very slippery surfaces. There are spiked and spikeless varieties available in a number of sizes and styles, so it’s worth shopping around to find a pair that fits well over the soles of your shoes and feels comfortable while walking. Ice cleats are also a good choice if you cannot invest in a dedicated pair of winter walking shoes or boots or if your excursions into the snow and ice will be so few that they do not warrant buying winter shoes.
Next, consider how you walk. In a recent blog post, we discussed tips to improve your posture and maintain your balance. These included distributing your weight evenly ON your feet, making sure your shoulders and hips are aligned and preventing your head and shoulders from being out in front of your hips. If there was ever a reason to follow this advice, it’s when walking on snow or ice. Maintaining good posture so that you are stable as you walk is vital to avoiding slips and falls.
When it comes to walking in snow and ice, British adventurer David Hempleman-Adams, who not only trekked to the magnetic North and South Poles but also climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents, recommended taking a page from the playbook of the penguins. In an interview with the U.K.-based newspaper The Daily Mail, Hempleman-Adams said that, like a penguin, we should take short, careful steps when walking on snow and ice and ensure that our weight is spread out evenly across our entire foot with each step.
Finally, as long as we’re adapting advice from other professions, we should consider how construction workers keep their footing when climbing in and out of excavators and other heavy equipment. They are trained to take a three-point stance, in which they keep both feet and at least one hand in contact with the machine at all times as they climb in and out of it. For the benefits of this approach, think of a tripod and how its three legs are far more stable than two. Given that approach, Hempleman-Adams also encouraged winter walkers to avail themselves of a cane or a walking stick when venturing out into the snow. There are even anti-slip tips available for the cane ends that can make them less prone to the dangers of ice.
Even better than a cane or walking stick, however, is a walker like the Motivo Tour. Not only is it designed to be used in all weather conditions, but it gives you six points of contact with the ground as you walk. Furthermore, the Tour allows you to walk upright, which as we mentioned earlier is vital to maintaining your center of gravity and keeping your weight balanced over your feet.
Regardless of how you prepare yourself for a walk in the snow, you should wait until the sidewalks, streets and parking lots have been cleared and de-iced. Wherever possible, try to find dry ground to walk on. And make sure that you either remove or dry your shoes when you return home. Melting snow can create a slip hazard in your home.