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Safely walking in a winter wonderland

SIMCOE, JANUARY 7, 2011 – I will exercise more this year. This sentence, or some variation of it, appears on countless New Year’s resolution lists. People will rush out and purchase gym memberships or exercise equipment to help them achieve their goal and stay active in the cold winter months.

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit wants to remind you that there is another easy and effective form of exercise, one that won’t add to your Christmas credit card bills, and is an option in any season, with a little planning.

“Walking is an excellent form of exercise for any age group. It costs nothing and works wonders in keeping your bones and muscles healthy and strong,” said Joanne Alessi, Injury Prevention Coordinator with the Health Unit. “Obviously there are going to be times when it’s too hazardous for anyone to be out, like during a blizzard or ice storm. However, with a little bit of safety advice, you can continue walking throughout the winter season.”

If you decide it’s safe to go out, you need to prepare by wearing the right clothing and footwear. Because of short winter days and reduced daylight, your best bet is to wear clothing with reflective strips at dusk and bright clothing at other times. Even switching to a colourful hat or scarf will make you more visible to motorists.

Wearing the proper footwear is an absolute necessity to avoid outdoor falls in winter. Boots should have a good tread with heels no higher than one and a half inches. Better yet, sole grippers can be worn over your boots to provide even greater traction. These can be purchased at many sporting goods stores or department stores.

“Research has shown that the use of sole grippers does indeed improve balance on icy surfaces and reduces falls,” noted Alessi. “The only caution is that if you use sole grippers, they must be removed before walking indoors on smooth surfaces. Likewise, if you use a cane, use one that is fitted with a pick for winter walking.”

Here are some special tips to avoid injuries when walking in the winter.

· Keep your hands out of your pockets. This will assist you in keeping your balance in case you should feel yourself slipping
· Carry a small pouch of rock salt in your pocket. When approaching an icy patch, you can sprinkle some ahead of you to provide instant traction.
· Avoid carrying heavy loads.
· Pay attention while walking. Look for hazards ahead (for example, tree branches partially covered by snow).
· Avoid icy patches by walking around them if possible
· Take short shuffling steps with your knees bent when you step on icy areas.
· Scan for hazards and choose a safe crossing area when crossing the street.
· Make eye contact with turning drivers before crossing the street.
· Carry a whistle in your pocket or around your neck. Use it to attract attention in case you do fall. Even better, carry a cell phone in your pocket or clipped to your belt.
· Report any sidewalks that haven’t been shovelled

If you do happen to fall, the first thing to do is rest. Falling is a shock to the system and you need to take stock and think about your next move and ask yourself if you are hurt. If not, the best way to get back on your feet is to roll onto your side and then attempt to get up on all four limbs as if you are about to crawl. Crawl to the nearest upright obstacle such as a light post or mail box. Place one foot flat on the ground keeping the other knee bent. Lean forward and push up unto the leg with the foot flat on the ground. Use that leg to push forward and upwards to a standing position.

If during your fall you think you might be hurt, try to attract attention by calling out or using your whistle. Keep moving your hands and feet to maintain circulation and prevent hypothermia. Keep as warm as possible by using anything handy that might shield your body. Remember, as long as you keep calling out there is a greater chance that help will find you.

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Media contact:
Joanne Alessi, RN
Injury Prevention Coordinator
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
905-318-5367 Ext. 322
[email protected]