Winter Safety Tips for Older Adults

by Alison McIrvin
A person walking alone on a Winter day

For most of us, winter means cold and wet weather, short days, and the hope that one day, spring will arrive. Winter conditions can also bring issues that are unique to the season. Here are a few things to consider to keep you safe and secure!

General Safety Tips

These safety tips apply to all older adults — whether you’re spending time outside or not.

Get Your Flu Shot

The flu is at best a period of aches, chills, and fever and at worst, something much more dangerous.

In people with less robust immune systems, the flu can develop into pneumonia, among other complications. Groups at higher risk for complications from the flu include people over 65, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and children younger than five years old.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over six months of age get vaccinated yearly. If you have allergies to egg or a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, or if you are not feeling well, talk to your doctor before getting a vaccine.

Prepare for Storms

Many people enjoy winter storms because they force us to stay cozied up inside, but they can actually be quite dangerous. Storms may leave loads of snow and ice at your doorstep, or worse, cause a power outage.

You should be prepared for situations when you have no power or no way to get to the store for supplies. Make sure that you have flashlights with plenty of batteries, as well as bottled water, nonperishable food, and warm blankets and clothing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a number of checklists with information about severe weather issues.

Remove Ice and Snow

According to the National Safety Council, falls are the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related death. Ice and snow can make for hazardous conditions right outside your door, so be sure to remove snow from walkways and sidewalks or use de-icing products.

Since shoveling snow is a known risk factor for heart attacks, consider hiring a service that can clear your walkways for you. Always wear shoes with good, solid soles that have good traction to minimize the risk of slipping.

[Related: Improve Your Balance and Prevent Falls With Exercise]

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

When it’s cold outside, we reach for the thermostat or light a fire.

Unfortunately, those heating sources can create odorless, tasteless, and deadly carbon monoxide. This toxic gas can build, undetected, to dangerous levels, so make sure to install a carbon monoxide detector with fresh batteries.

The rule of thumb when it comes to detectors like this is to change the batteries twice a year and test the units when you change the battery.

Safety Tips for Outdoor Winter Workouts

For those of us who are venturing outdoors to work out this season, a few more safety tips are in order.

Hydrate

Cold weather can be more dehydrating than you might realize.

Even if you’re not actively sweating, you still lose water when you breathe cold, dry air. Cold weather also fools the body, and we tend not to get as thirsty as on hot days, so we can easily become dehydrated.

Make an extra effort to stay hydrated in the winter, and if you are engaging in outdoor activities, check in with yourself every 15 to 20 minutes to gauge your thirst.

The bottom line is that you can’t rely on body cues when it’s cold out, and need to be proactive. If cold water doesn’t sound as appealing as it does in warmer months, try drinking herbal teas or hot water with lemon.

[Related: How to Stay Hydrated When Exercising]

Carry ID

Carrying at least one form of ID is essential. Make sure to choose workout gear with small pockets with zippers just for this purpose.

Wear Layers

Temperature regulation becomes less efficient as we age. Various factors contribute to this, such as the thinning of the layer of fat just under the skin and slower constriction of blood vessels.

Aging can also make noticing the cold more difficult, so wearing sufficient layers and keeping the thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees F are essential. If the core body temperature drops below 95 degrees — just three degrees below normal  — health problems can occur.

Dress in layers and moisture-wicking clothing. When you can shed or add layers depending on your body heat and perspiration, you can control your exposure and manage your body temperature.

[Related: Guide to Layering for Outdoor Workouts]

Make Sure You Can Be Seen

As careful as you may be when you’re outside, you still need to worry about those around you. Passing vehicles can be especially risky if you’re exercising near a road. When you wear dark clothing, you may completely fade into the background as the sun begins to go down.

To make sure you stand out, wear reflective clothing and accessories when you’re outside.

Know Your Conditions & Surroundings

A myriad of great weather apps are out there for trail conditions, weather fronts coming in, and temperature changes. Make sure you have the apps that are applicable to the types of outdoor activities you will be doing, such as snow pack levels or tide/water conditions.

You should also be aware of the area you are planning on exercising in. This includes not only knowing your route and where you intend to go (this is not the time to explore), but also removing your headphones so you can be more aware of traffic and people around you on those dark nights. Choose paths that are well travelled.

Be a Buddy

Having a partner for those cold, dark nights is not only a great way to stay motivated to exercise, but is also crucial for safety, in case anything should go wrong. At the very least, make sure someone knows where you will be and when they should expect you back home.

Know the Signs of Hypothermia

You don’t have to be backcountry skiing to be at risk of hypothermia — just about any outdoor activity in winter or wet weather can put you at risk.

You only need to experience one of the following conditions to be in the early stages of hypothermia:

  • Drowsiness
  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Slowed breathing and/or heart rate
  • Pale, cold skin
  • Loss of coordination

Following these tips for your winter outdoor workouts will help you stay safe throughout the season and boost your confidence as you continue with your workout plan into those (even) colder months.

Want more workout tips?

Featured image via Pixabay

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