And happy this winter. What you need to know
By Laura Stewart
For aging adults, winter can be a difficult time, especially in our cold northern climate. Frigid weather, ice and snow can be treacherous, with the unfortunate possibility of slips and falls, wrist and hip fractures or even head injures. But winter weather shouldn’t make one feel like a prisoner in one’s home, because an isolated and sedentary lifestyle is far less than ideal. Follow these helpful tips to keep active and healthy as the thermometer drops:
For winter walking, a pair of warm and waterproof winter boots with a thick nonslip tread is essential. You can also purchase special grippers, like snow tires for your feet, that you wear over your shoes. These clever gizmos can be very helpful for maintaining traction on snow and ice, but become very slippery walking on smooth surfaces like tile and marble. Remember to remove them before going indoors.
Putting grippers on and removing them from your shoes can be tricky. To be safe, take them on and off while sitting. If you haven’t already, relocate a chair or other seat to just inside your front door.
If you are feeling unsteady walking outdoors, consider using a cane to aid your balance. Make sure it is the correct height: with your arm dangling by your side, the top of the cane handle should come to the crease of your wrist.
Add an ice pick to the bottom of your cane. They’re available at most pharmacies or medical supply stores. Be sure to remember to flip it down when you go outside, and flip it back up when you come indoors. Replace the rubber tips on your cane regularly, before they are worn down and smooth. Padded hip protectors worn under your clothes are sometimes suggested to cushion impact in case of a fall. Results are conflicting about whether they are effective in preventing hip fractures, but you may want to give them a try. They are unlikely to have any adverse effects, but don’t be fooled into a fake sense of safety by them.
Insulating layers of clothing including warm socks, hat, scarf and gloves are essential when venturing outdoors. Seniors and others with compromised health may have a higher risk of both hypothermia and frostbite, so
Clear a path
Try and avoid walking on sidewalks or roadways that are covered in snow or ice. Slow your walking down, keeping your feet wide to give you a bigger base of support, and don’t rush across icy areas. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a passerby to assist you across especially slippery patches.
• Around the house, ensure walkways are clear and pavement is dry, especially on sloped driveways and steps.
• It may not be safe for you to clear the snow yourself: If you have poor balance or a heart condition, you should get help with snow removal from family or neighbours, a paid service or a community services group.
• A railing beside steps or ramps outdoors can be a lifesaver. Consider having one installed at your home.
• Use sand and/or salt on icy patches outside your home. If you live in an apartment or condominium, speak to building management about ice and snow not being removed in a timely and thorough manner.
• Consider carrying a small bag of non-clumping cat litter in your pocket to sprinkle on icy patches you encounter in public spaces.
• Make sure you mop up any melted snow from the floor near your door; a puddle could become a slipping hazard later.
Bring exercise indoors
Many people enjoy a daily walk as a great way to get some exercise, but winter weather can put a damper on this fun routine. Instead, recruit a friend or family member and create an indoor walking route. Many people choose a shopping mall as location for winter walks. It often has accessible parking spaces and doesn’t cost a thing, as long as you stick to window-shopping!
Other indoor options include group exercise classes, many geared for seniors, at the local community centre. You can also do it with an exercise DVD at home (check out a chair exercise routine if your mobility is limited) or tune into a low-intensity exercise programme available on some local television stations.
Consider purchasing a recumbent stationary bike for a cardiovascular workout at home. Alternately, a smaller and much less expensive exercise option is a piece of equipment called a pedal exerciser or ergometer. These are available at department and sporting goods stores, typically for less than $100. They are essentially the pedals of an exercise bike with adjustable tension that you place in front of a chair. You sit in the chair and pedal away to get your heart pumping and your leg joints limber.
Keep in touch
The winter can be a lonely time for those with reduced mobility: The interruption of regular social activities and exercise routines can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation and even depression. Staying active and in touch with friends, neighbours and family are key to feeling good. Here are more suggestions to help chase those winter blues away:
• Caregivers, try to check in regularly with routine visits and phone calls.
• Better yet, plan a regular outing together.
• Stay in touch over Skype or email and make plans for springtime activities.
• Open your shades to let in sunlight.
• Socialize with friends who lift your spirits.
• Eat healthy. The Canada Food Guide is a reliable source of advice.
• Make furry friends. Unlike humans, animals are unaware of the winter blues and are happy to return affection.
• Take a vitamin. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about a multivitamin every day. Consider vitamin D—getting enough is critical during winter months.
• Make sure you’re taking in fatty acids. These can be found in coldwater fish, nuts and seeds.
• Practice stress reduction through meditation or deep relaxation methods.
Bundle up and head outdoors on sunny days and look forward to spring!
Laura Stewart, BScH, MScPT, is a physiotherapist working in both private homecare and community clinics in Toronto.