Stay Safe on Wet Sidewalks

by Abigail Lewis

Don’t fall for the weather 1214_MG_woman-in-rain-brolly

The weather outside may not be frightful here in the Southland, but we’re well into the rainy season and Mother Nature is delivering more downpours than we’ve had in several years. Because it has been so dry, oil and other residue has had a chance to accumulate on streets and sidewalks, making walking more hazardous than usual.

Falls almost always take us by surprise. Most of us are all-too-familiar with the experience of walking along minding our own business and suddenly realizing we’re going down and have no way to stop ourselves. Nancy MacDonald, age 68, was enjoying a sightseeing trip in Paris with her sister when an errant pastry caused her foot to fly out from under her and hamstring muscles to detach. The result? Surgery, crutches and a waist-to-knee brace for six to eight weeks.

And this writer was hiking when she tripped over a tree root and landed literally flat on her face, fortunately sustaining no more-serious injuries than two scratches: one to her belly and one to her sunglasses.

Both of us were lucky. Up to 30 percent of falls in adults older than 65 cause moderate to severe injuries, loss of independence or possibly death. In 2011, nearly 23,000 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many falls happen indoors, but the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reports that 56 percent of falls among older people happen outside the home.

Stay on your toes (and heels!) outside with these expert tips:

Do a balancing act

Cirque de Soleil not in your future? Never mind, you can still develop your balance and ability to respond quickly. Some activities, such as walking and playing tennis, help with balance, or you can simply practice standing on one foot for 20 seconds, then the other. When you become more proficient at that, stand holding the back of a chair or a counter and go up on your toes of one foot, hold for 10 seconds, then lower that foot and raise up on the toes of your other foot. Alternate three times.

Take baby steps

Remember that childhood game of “Mother, May I?” In this game, one person is the mother and gives directions to everyone else as to how many steps they may take: baby steps or giant steps. Your health is not a game, so take baby steps. What’s the rush?

Where are your hands?

It’s tempting to put your hands in your pockets when it’s chilly outside, but hands come in very, well, handy for blocking a fall, so wear gloves. And if you have to carry something, consider using a backpack. It will keep your hands free while also making you look like an energetic athlete, and it’s hard to argue with that.

Stay out of the street

As slippery as it is for you, it’s just as slippery for cars and trucks. Stay out of the street except to cross in crosswalks, and even then it’s best to stay alert. You never know how worn someone’s tires may be or if the sun is in a driver’s eyes.

Be smarter than Cinderella

When Cinderella left the ball, she had to take off on a run lest her carriage turn into a pumpkin. But that was a ball, so we can forgive her for wearing impractical shoes. You, however, know better. Flat shoes with traction are going to be more stable in the rain, so sacrifice looking chic for staying safe. You can always bring elegant shoes in your handbag.

Watch your step

This seems like an obvious one, but most of us have a steady stream of conversation going on in our heads at all times. Pay attention to where you are and watch where you are putting your feet.

Brave the elements

If you’ve fallen before, it’s natural to be more cautious and maybe even choose not to go out in inclement weather. But you’re not made of spun sugar and won’t melt in the rain, so be brave, dress properly from head (a good rain hat is better than an umbrella because you don’t have to hold it) to toe (shoes with traction) and get some exercise. No extra charge for the healthy glow.

If you should fall

That depends. Is it a wonderful person and you’re falling in love? Otherwise, learn how to fall “the right way.” If you know you’re going down, lean into it and relax. And try to fall on your fleshy parts. Buttocks and thighs generally tolerate impact better than knees or wrists.