Winter is just around the corner, and like many in Northern Michigan, you’re probably itching to get outside. Maybe for you that means regular trips to your favorite ski hill, strapping on your snow shoes and hitting the trails, or just playing outside with your kids or grandkids.

Unfortunately, if you’re over 65, there may be a big obstacle to you getting out to enjoy the things you love. For different reasons, many people develop a significant fear of falling outside, as well as the fear that if they do fall, they won’t be able to get back up again. Here are some sobering statistics from the World Health Organization to validate those concerns:

  • 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 have fallen in the past year
  • 56% of falls occur outside the home. Outdoor falls are more likely to occur among people younger than 75 years, which suggests that they are more active and mobile, whereas indoor falls occur more frequently among those who are more frail, generally those age 75 years and older (most likely because they spend more time indoors)
  • 47% of seniors who fall cannot get up without assistance
  • Falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions, and 40% of all nursing home admissions

Obviously, the risk of falling outdoors is significant and the consequences can be severe. So, what can you do to reduce your risk? Fortunately, addressing just three things goes a long way towards reducing your fall risk:

  • Use the right assistive device– Has your physical therapist, doctor, or a family member expressed concern about how steady you are? Chances are good that those observations were made when you were walking in a medical office or a home with flat, level floors. Unless your outdoor time is solely limited to sidewalks, you’ll be walking around on bumpy, uneven, slippery ground, which increases fall risk. Make sure that you have a cane, walker, or walking stick that provides the right amount of support for the surface you’re on.
  • Stay strong and flexible– Aging itself does not cause people to fall, but being some combination of weak, inflexible, and slow-to-react certainly does. The good news is that strength, flexibility, and reflex time can always be improved, often with just a little exercise a few days each week. You can also sneak exercises that help prevent falling into your daily routine. For example, you can practice standing on one foot while brushing your teeth, knock out 10 squats every time you start a new show on TV, or raise up on your toes 15-20 times while cooking.
  • Do a little prep work– Try standing on one foot without hooking your leg with the opposite foot or holding onto an external object. If you’re unable to stand on one foot for at least 20-30 seconds, you are likely at an elevated risk of falling. See your physical therapist for some easy ways to reduce your fall risk.

If you have fallen more than three times in the past six months, your balance may be more compromised than you realize. If this is the case, see your physical therapist for a few easily administered balance tests to determine your fall risk and come up with a plan for making you more steady. Autumn is a great time of year to do a little work to reduce your chances of taking a tumble once the snow flies.