Winter Walking Tips

posted by Laura Manwarren & Tatum Geerdes on Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Winter weather has arrived! While “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” sounds like a lovely seasonal experience, it’s important to remember that winter’s snowy and icy conditions underfoot can quickly result in a tumble.

Slips, trips and falls are the second most common cause of unintentional deaths from injuries in the U.S. each year, second only to traffic deaths. Even when tumbles aren’t fatal, painful and sometimes life-changing injuries can occur, such as head wounds and broken bones.  Naturally, trips and falls happen for many reasons, not just snow and ice; however, this time of year it’s important to be especially cautious when walking outside.

Some of the areas or situations of which people should be particularly mindful include:

  • Transitions – When you transition from one surface to another, such as getting out of a vehicle or entering/exiting an exterior doorway, the risk for falling increases due to the change in surface texture and your shift of weight.
  • Parking lots & sidewalks – Even the best snow removal crews aren’t available 24/7 to address new accumulations of snow or ice. And, even if a parking lot or stretch of sidewalk is completely cleared of snow, typically during the day temperatures may have warmed up, creating some melting, only to freeze again, resulting in an icy surface.
  • Watch for black ice – this occurs when dew or water vapor freezes on a cold surface, forming an extra-thin, nearly invisible layer of ice.

In addition to being mindful of potentially slippery surfaces, here are more tips for lowering your risks of falling when walking outdoors?

  • Choosing the right footwear – While watching your step is important, the footwear you’re taking that step is equally significant. Boots with rubber soles and non-slip treads are great. Added grippers or traction cleats are also excellent for increasing safety.  
  • Defensive walking – Just like being a ‘defensive driver’ to avoid incidents, practice being a defensive walker to avoid winter slips and falls.
    • This includes:
      • Plan ahead to allow sufficient time;
      • Use care getting in and out of your vehicle, hold onto the door frame to steady yourself;
      • Assume all wet and dark areas on a pavement or walkway are slippery and icy;
      • Don’t text and walk at the same time – distracted walking is also a concern;
      • And our favorite …
        • Walk like a penguin:
        • Slow down and walk flat-footed.
        • Use a wide-stance.
        • Take small, shuffle-like steps.
        • Keep your center of gravity over your feet.
        • Concentrate on your balance.
        • Use your arms for balance.
  • Alter your pathway’s texture - Sprinkle sand in front of you as you walk or near your car before stepping out.  This will improve traction and decrease fall risk for you and everyone who walks the same path later.
  • Watch for trip hazards such as cracks in pavement, debris, or ice chunks.
  • Carry with caution - Avoid carrying items out in front of you—items should be carried in a way that does not obstruct the view of your feet or walkway.
  • Once inside, watch for wet surfaces - Wipe shoes well when coming in from wet or slushy conditions.  Wet shoes can make smooth surfaces very slick during any of the four seasons.

While caution is essential when walking on snowy or icy areas to avoid falls, on the flip side there are also benefits to enjoying a winter stroll. When it’s cold outside, your body works harder to maintain your core temperature, causing you to expend more calendars. A brisk walk can lead to better sleep and serve as a mood-booster. So, don’t completely avoid “walking in a winter wonderland,” but instead embrace it mindfully.

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About The Author

Laura Manwarren & Tatum Geerdes

Spencer Hospital Safety Director Laura Manwarren and Employee Health Nurse Tatum Geerdes team up to share important safety information and tips that can maintain good health. Laura and Tatum are both nurse professionals who focus on prevention for optimal health.