Are you falling for winter?

Winter is here, and that means slipping and sliding will be commonplace if you live in a cold weather climate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 20,000 people die annually due to fall-related injuries. So what can we do to protect ourselves?

"So many people, especially in winter, they stop exercising and this means they get weaker and weaker," said Mike Ross, an exercise physiologist at Gottlieb Center for Fitness in Melrose Park. "When our muscles weaken and we have a change in sensory perception, balance deteriorates."

Ross said our eardrums can thicken as we age, which also throws off the equilibrium. And when cells break down in the nervous system due to age, Ross said our reflexes can be delayed. But these can be strengthened, he said, with practice.

"When you don't stimulate your balance, people are surprised when it is off, but it does deteriorate if you don't use it," he said. "I think it should be in the same category as fitness and strength training. You need to be training it on a regular basis."

Here are Ross' tips to prepare for the worst and avoid winter slips.

Check your footwear. "This sounds so simple but people don't realize how quickly their traction can be worn out," Ross said. "Look at the bottoms of the shoes you wear the most. If (they're) smooth, look to get (them) fixed or replaced. This is a lot less expensive than getting a new pair of shoes and it could save you from falling."

Get your hands out of your pockets. "People put their head down, hands in their pockets and walk fast," Ross said. "If you slip you have nothing to break your fall."

Check the railings around your home. "This should be done every year," he said. "Ask yourself, 'If I were to actually fall, can this thing hold me up?' Do this near all doors, front and back."

Bring a cell phone with you. "The nightmare is, if you do fall and you can't get back up, what do you do? Stay there and panic? What if you fall again? Even if it's just to get the paper, bring the phone with you."

Plan ahead. "You can't move at your normal speed when there's ice," Ross said. "Give yourself extra time and slow down. You need to budget that time so you don't feel rushed and aren't putting yourself at risk."

Practice balance at home. "Whether it's climbing your stairs, or doing squats in a chair, you need to keep your balance muscles active," he said.

"Another good exercise is standing with one foot right in front of the other, heel to toe. This will feel wobbly and less stable but it stimulates your balance. Standing on one leg while holding on to something is also a good one that you can do any time. And these are long-term strategies and tactics that can be the difference between breaking a bone or bouncing back in two weeks."

Twitter: @jenweigel

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Yep, I took my dad to Lollapalooza

    I suppose I should be old enough to know by now that something doesn't become un-cool just because your parent is there.

  • Lollapalooza style portraits

    Lollapalooza style portraits

    Concertgoers pose at the three-day fest in Grant Park.

  • Lolla day 2: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    Lolla day 2: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    And just like that, there’s only one day left of Lolla. Here’s what stood out to us from day 2. Best: The Tallest Man on Earth: Maybe it was just a right-mood, right-set situation, but boy this was the perfect mid-day act to take a breather, sit in the sun, and just chill and listen to and enjoy....

  • 50 Cent at Parliament and Wyclef Jean at The Underground

    50 Cent at Parliament and Wyclef Jean at The Underground

    Shots in The Dark at Parliament Nightclub with 50 Cent and The Underground Nightclub with Wyclef Jean and Joey Fatone July 31st

  • Lolla day 1: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    Lolla day 1: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    One day down! Here’s the best and worst we saw at Lolla on Friday, plus a few superlatives from day 1. Best: Anyone who knows me knows I was bound to pick Paul McCartney as my favorite act of the day. The Beatle came out and gave it his all with more than two hours of hits, tributes and jokes about...

  • Lolla day 1: Let's just rename it Paul-apalooza

    Lolla day 1: Let's just rename it Paul-apalooza

    What can you really say about Sir Paul McCartney, the former Beatle, pop music pioneer, worldwide cultural icon, and all-around great guy, that hasn't already been said? I mean, seriously. With the Beatles changing music for the better, becoming a pop culture institution and being "more popular...