Winter Walking Safety Tips for Seniors

Stay Warm & Avoid Falls in Tricky Winter Weather

two seniors walking with dog in cold weather
Salomé Fresco Barbeito/Moment Mobile/Getty Images

Walking is one of the best ways to get regular exercise as you age, with little preparation or equipment required, and minimum impact on joints. If the sidewalk or trail is covered with packed snow or ice, however, the terrain can be treacherous for even the most intrepid walker. Here are some tips to make getting outside in the winter months safer for seniors.

Winter Footwear

According to the Canada Safety Council and the National Institute on Aging, the best footwear offers support and traction, with the following features:

  • Wide heel for stability
  • Lightweight for ease of wear
  • Non-slip tread on rubber sole
  • Lace-up shoes or boots for good foot support
  • Warm and waterproof

Ice-gripping rubber and metal traction devices that pull on to the bottom of your shoes or boots can offer skid-proofing, making them great for wintery terrain. Take care when using these gripping attachments of smooth surfaces like tile or cement, or even black ice, because they can slide if they can't sink into the surface. That means being extra cautious while emerging from a path onto a clear sidewalk, or coming into a garage while the traction devices are still attached to footwear. 

Watch the Terrain

Use sand or salt to melt the ice on stairs and walkways outside and reduce the chance of falling. If you use an assistive device like a cane, attach ice picks at the end and make sure the cane itself is adjusted to the proper height in order to offer the best support.

The Canada Safety Council recommends ensuring the right fit by flipping the cane upside down and making sure the end is at wrist height. See these tips for using a cane properly. Make sure your home walkways are well-lit and stick to sidewalks with adequate lighting.

How to Avoid a Fall on Ice

Unfortunately you might inadvertently find yourself on a dangerous patch of ice.

What to do? The Canada Safety Council recommends stepping deliberately and slowly, keeping your feet spread at least a foot apart for better support and balance. Leaning slightly forward and keeping your knees loose and not locked, take a firm first step forward. Shift your weight completely before taking a second step. Make sure your feet are not placed less than a foot apart for better stability.

It may feel silly, but taking care while walking on ice can help you avoid a hip fracture; a potentially debilitating and dangerous event which can erode a senior's self-confidence and independence.

Cold Weather Clothing

Be sure to wear clothing that will protect you from hypothermia: a potentially serious problem when your body temperature drops too low. You can avoid hypothermia by dressing in layers to trap heat close to your body, keeping your head covered and avoiding going outside when it's very cold or very windy. High windchill can make your body lose heat more quickly.

Getting outdoors can do a lot to boost your mood during the long winter months, offering a healthy dose of fresh air, and if you have a walking partner, some valuable social time.

If you take care, you can enjoy the weather and get some valuable exercise as well!

Read more about the risks of falling and how to avoid it:


Falls and Fractures. US National Institutes on Aging Public Information Sheet. Accessed February 24, 2014.

Safety Tips for Winter Walking. Canada Safety Council Public Information Sheet. Accessed February 24, 2014.

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