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Take a tip from the Antarctic when walking this winter

By Christian Meagher on 2/17/2015

This winter, it’s easy to imagine what life is like in Antarctica thanks to constant frigid temperatures and snowstorms we’ve experienced.

Besides the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia, extreme cold increases the risk of injuries due to slips and falls as parking lots turn into skating rinks and packed snow makes sidewalks bumpy and uneven.

So, when braving the elements these icy days, remember these three “Ps” of safe walking – Plan Ahead; Pay Attention, and Penguin (read on, we’ll explain why this Antarctic species can teach you a thing or two about safety).

Plan ahead

Safety rarely happens by accident, and while it may seem a little strange, planning is needed for every type of trip in icy conditions – even if just to the mailbox. Here are some ways to make sure you’re ready:

  • Give yourself sufficient time to get where you are going because rushing is the last thing you want to do on ice.
  •  Leave purses and handbags at home or use a backpack if you need to carry several items. You need to leave your hands and arms free to better balance yourself.
  •  Use special care when entering and exiting vehicles, and use the vehicle for support.
  • Wear a heavy, bulky coat that will cushion you if you should fall.
  • Avoid boots or shoes with smooth soles and heels. Boots made of non-slip rubber or neoprene rubber with grooved soles are the best.

Pay attention

Being aware is key to walking safely on snow and ice. Even though it may seem warm or the temperature may be above freezing, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to be cautious. Keep these tips in mind throughout the winter:

  • Assume that all wet, dark areas on pavements are slippery and icy.
  •  Stay in designated walkways as much as possible. Shortcuts over snow piles and other frozen areas can put you in a very hazardous situation.
  •  Look ahead when you walk. A snowy or ice-covered sidewalk or driveway may require travel along its grassy edge for traction – especially when on any sort of incline or decline.
  • Don’t talk on your cell phone or text. Focus your attention on where you place your feet.

Make like a penguin

If you have to navigate an icy or snowy surface, take a lesson from penguins with these steps:

  • Point your feet out slightly to increase your center of gravity.
  • Bend your knees slightly and walk flat-footed with your center of gravity directly over the feet as much as possible.
  • Extend your arms out to your sides to maintain balance. Definitely don’t keep your hands in your pockets. This decreases your center of gravity and balance, and “hands free” walking can also help you break your fall should you slip or trip.
  • Watch where you are stepping and GO SLOWLY.
  • Take short steps or shuffle for stability – like a penguin!

Keeping you safe

For more safety tips and ways you can be prepared in the event of an emergency, visit Griffin Hospital’s Emergency Preparedness webpage.