What is your greatest worry as winter sets in? Many older adults share the fear of falling. And it is a legitimate concern. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans aged 65 and up fall each year. This is a statistic that can be easily avoided.
During the winter months, as the weather conditions become precarious, the risk of falling is increased. Slippery sidewalks, black ice, puddles, and sleek staircases all increase the risk of slipping. Your risk is also increased if you wear clunky boots or other footwear that doesn’t allow your feet and ankles to work properly.
What can you do to avoid falls?
- Weather conditions: The first thing to consider is the weather conditions. Use common sense. Avoid going out if the weather is very severe. Listen to the local news. And then, dress accordingly and wear appropriate footwear.
- Curbs and corners: Watch out for curbs and corners that accumulate puddles and ice. These are very common places to slip. Walk slowly and watch your step. Black ice can be very difficult to see on the sidewalk, so be cautious. It is better to get there without falling than to trip while hurrying.
- Stairs: Be careful on steps and always hold onto the railing.
- Train platforms: Never run for a train. It is just not worth it. People slip running for the train every day even in the best of weather. Don’t risk it.
- Wear proper footwear: Most winter boots are too clunky, too heavy, and too cumbersome. Find the most lightweight and flexible boot and make sure it has good traction. A heavy boot that fits your ankle too tightly restricts your ankle function and increases your risk of tripping and falling.
How can I improve my Balance?
- Ankle mobility: If your ankles are stiff, you are much more likely to slip on a curb or a staircase. Good ankle function, the ability to move your foot up and down, which is called dorsiflexion and plantarflexion, is critical for balance. To improve it, try doing a Standing Ankle Opener at the Wall.
- Thigh and butt strength: Having strong thigh (quadriceps) and butt (gluteus) muscles is important because these are your support and walking muscles. These muscles will prevent you from falling and allow you to catch yourself if you do. To increase your thigh and butt strength, try an Air Bench;
- Butt and hip strength: Your butt and hips are also critical for walking and balance. Keeping your butt and hips strong will help prevent falls from happening. The gluteus medius is an important member of the butt muscles and is easily strengthened with an exercise called the Clamshell.
- Build calf and lower leg strength: It takes two minutes to do one set of 10 calf raises in each of the three positions your lower leg needs. I know; I do them every day, not just in winter.
- Proprioception: If you want to maintain good balance, you have to challenge your sense of where your body is in space, your proprioception. Practice your balance every day. It is easy to do. Challenge yourself with this exercise called The Tree.
- Whole Body Alignment: Balance, or the lack of it, is a function of the alignment of your whole body. If you have a hip or a shoulder that is rotated forward or up, you are more likely to feel off center, and, therefore, more likely to fall. Look in the mirror and assess your posture, or ask a friend to check you out. If you are out of alignment, take measures to bring yourself back to center. Start by practicing Static Back every day and then come and see us for an evaluation. Take action before an imbalance becomes a chronic problem.
You can’t avoid winter, but you can avoid falling. Balance becomes more challenging with age and that is why you should work to maintain it. Whole body alignment, ankle mobility, and strong legs are all critical for achieving and maintaining balance.
Have a happy and healthy holiday season and a wonderful New Year!