Slips and falls aren't just a workplace-safety issue. Approximately 1 million people slip and fall every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 20,000 of them die due to fall-related injuries.
The odds of falling increase as we age – and certainly aren't helped by icy sidewalks and slippery parking lots during the winter months. Still, exercise physiologist Mike Ross asserts that there are measures we can take to stay upright when the conditions seem to be working against us.
"Many falls can be successfully avoided or the impact minimized by applying a few basic strategies," says Ross, author of "The Balance Manual" and exercise physiologist at the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, part of the Loyola University Health System. "Balance deteriorates as we get older due to the weakening of muscles and change in sensory perception, especially in the ear structure."
The inner ear and the brain play an important role in our equilibrium, or balance.
"As we age, our eardrums often thicken and the bones of the middle ear and other structures are affected. It often becomes increasingly difficult to maintain balance," Ross explains. "Aging also breaks down cells in the nervous system, which can often result in a delay in reflexes that can lead to susceptibility to injury."
Ross offers these tips to prevent winter slips and falls:
- Check your footwear. Examine your shoes and boots. How's the traction? Better traction can help keep you more stable on icy surfaces.
- Keep a shovel and salt in your house. The reason you have a shovel and salt is so you don't have to walk on a slippery sidewalk. Having them in the garage defeats the purpose.
- Check the railings. If you have railings leading up to your front door, check to see if they're sturdy. Would they support you if you slipped?
- Bring a cell phone when you leave the house. If you fall, it can sometimes be hard to get up. Carrying a cell phone whenever you go out can bring peace of mind.
- Slow down. Allow extra time if it's slippery out. Keep in mind that being a little late is better than rushing and causing a fall.
- Strengthen your legs. Strong leg muscles can help you steady yourself if you slip. And if you do fall, they make it a lot easier to get back up. You should exercise your legs regularly to keep them strong. Try walking up and down your stairs repeatedly or doing a set of 10 squats out of a chair a couple of times per week.