Winter is filled with dreamy images of ice-skating, skiing and gentle strolls through snow-covered scenery. Equally enticing are long evenings in front of the fire sipping hot cocoa, and reading a good book. But if you’re 50 or older, wintertime gives you a few extra challenges.
Between snow removal, icy sidewalks, colder temperatures and the vigorous nature of winter sports, many people underestimate the potential dangers of being outdoors in the cold weather. But you shouldn’t hibernate inside all season.
Dr. Jillian Schwartz, PT, DPT at Kulp Physical Therapy in Victor, New York, is experienced with the issues that come with the winter season. “Winter is a time where many of us become less active and then spring becomes a mad rush to get in shape,” Schwartz says. “It’s essential that we remain active throughout the winter months despite the cold weather.”
But older adults have a more difficult time regulating their internal body temperature than their younger counterparts. Studies have shown that the elderly are more vulnerable to hypothermia. Colder temperatures bring another risk: heart attacks. Cold weather causes arteries to constrict, thus cutting down the flow of blood through the body demanding even more effort to stay warm.
Not to worry, there are many ways to protect yourself in the winter months.
If you don’t fancy outdoor snow sports, join a gym. If weather conditions keep you cooped up, get creative. March in place, go up and down stairs or use your body weight for strength training.
Walking on Ice
Ice and concrete are a dangerous combination. When confronting this dangerous duo, Schwartz says:
• Wear flat shoes with treads.
• Stay focused — walking on ice is not the time to be on your phone. Be alert.
• Keep your hands where you can see them. “Your hands serve as a protective reflex if you fall,” Schwartz says. And use handrails when available.
• Use salt and sand. Add traction with salt or sand on your driveway, walkways and near your mailbox.
• Walk like a penguin. Use short, shuffling steps on slippery surfaces.
When it comes to avoiding overstressing your heart during this notorious wintertime activity, the American Heart Association has the following advice:
• Take frequent breaks. Pay attention to your breathing and how your body feels.
• Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. This changes your perception of cold and can mask the strain you are placing on your body.
• Consult a doctor. This is a must-do if you have a medical concern, believe you are experiencing symptoms of a medical condition or if snow removal is an increase over your usual activity levels.
• Be aware of hypothermia. Dress in layers of warm clothing with breathable fibers. Do not wear cotton. Hats prevent you from losing much of your body’s heat through your head.
Schwartz adds to the AHA considerations.
• Frequency. It’s better to shovel small amounts of snow many times rather than large amounts infrequently.
• Stay hydrated.
• Proper body mechanics. Consult with your physical therapist to learn proper and efficient body mechanics for shoveling.
Need for Speed
Of course, there many ages 50, 60, 70 and older who love winter for their beloved snow sports. To this active set, make sure you wear your helmet, stay hydrated and regulate your body heat.
Winter is a beautiful time, especially when you stay safe and healthy.