Avoid winter’s pitfalls: Stay active safely during a cold spell

While this winter has been mild, it still has had some bite. And likewise, Tioga County is seldom “out of the woods” for wintry weather until April rolls around. As a result, keeping winter safety tips in mind remains important as we look forward to spring.

While temperatures continue to fluctuate between above and below freezing, rain can quickly shift into sleet and ice. To avoid slips and falls on slick or slushy sidewalks, wear rubber-soled shoes with good traction, slow down, take shorter steps and widen your stance. Stick to paths that have been cleared and sprinkled with rock salt or ice melt, and don’t carry items in your hands, as your instinct will be to protect those items instead of righting yourself or breaking your fall should you begin to slip.

Once back inside, remember to remove your shoes and place them in a designated area out of the way. Any buildup of ice and snow on the shoes will melt, which can create a slick surface that could lead to an indoor slip and fall. If your home has smooth floors, like wood, tile or linoleum, consider wearing non-skid slippers instead of stocking feet to avoid indoor slips.

When we feel the sting of cold weather, we might brush aside the idea of working up a sweat. Despite that, staying hydrated during strenuous activity, like shoveling snow, is just as important as staying hydrated when mowing the lawn. Additionally, learning how to remove snow safely is important to avoid stress on your heart and back.

Shoveling snow manually is hard work, physically taxing and can be dangerous to your muscles, particularly your back. Therefore, practicing proper back safety is important in order to avoid injury.

Good rules to follow when shoveling snow:

• Maintain a straight back and bend at the knees

• Avoiding twisting motions

• Lift and support with your legs

• Wear appropriate clothing and go inside to warm up during frigid temperatures

• Take breaks and hydrate

• Enlist help with snow removal

If you are elderly or suffer from a physical condition, it is ideal to enlist the help of loved ones or to hire someone for snow removal. If you live in a snow-heavy area, consider purchasing a snow blower to cut down on manual snow shoveling.

As winter wanes, it’s the perfect time to get ready for spring activity. The inactivity that often accompanies winter months can lead to muscle atrophy, decreased endurance and balance, and increased joint stiffness. So, if you’ve taken a break from physical activity, it’s important to work back into exercise slowly and steadily.

To combat winter inactivity, consider using an exercise DVD, walking laps inside your home, utilizing a treadmill or stationary bike, or visiting a local gym, YMCA or exercise course. Partnering with a friend can also help you stay active, as company not only makes exercise more enjoyable, it can also help keep us accountable and establish a regular workout time.

You can also schedule a one-time visit with a physical therapist to discuss healthy exercise routines. He or she will be able to recommend an individually tailored exercise program you can do right in your own home.

Barlett is a physical therapist working with patients of all ages in physical and aquatic therapy at UPMC Susquehanna’s Physical & Aquatic Rehabilitation Center.