Author photo

By Christian M. Hartley
For Senior Voice 

Remember to play it safe when playing outdoors


July 1, 2023 | View PDF

Staying active is crucial for physical and mental health. Walking is a low-impact exercise that provides numerous health benefits. As we all head outdoors for our walks, we need to take every chance we can to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.

Know your route

Like going on a drive across country, a walk across the neighborhood means first picking the right route. Use well-lit paths and trails. Look for routes with pathways separated where possible and stick to the main routes so you have access to pedestrian crosswalks. Focus on lower traffic densities such as neighborhoods or school districts after school hours. Public parks, walking trails, and designated walking paths are ideal choices as they provide a controlled environment for walking while keeping you around other people and help, should a need arise.

Dress for success

Proper clothing cannot be overstated but is often overlooked. Attire, including footwear, greatly contributes to your safety. Choose comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing that allows freedom of movement. Pick bright and reflective colors. Proper footwear with good arch support and slip-resistant soles will reduce the risk of falls. Your old reliable slippers may work inside, but not outside.

Never go on a walk without water. Keep a small backpack or waist pouch to store essentials such as a mobile phone, identification card, a list of emergency contacts, and any required medications and a list of medical conditions such as diabetes. If the unthinkable happens, rescuers can correctly identify your emergency faster.

Some people use walking aids such as canes, walkers or trekking poles. These provide stability and support while walking and reduce the risk of falls. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable walking aid based on individual needs and preferences. Believe it or not, they are not all equal and can make a big impact on your gait, pace and movements. It’s amazing how much they help alleviate pressure on your knees and back.

Strength in numbers

Walking in groups can enhance safety. Go out with a friend or reach out to local walking groups, community centers, or senior organizations to find walking companions. Company not only provides conversation but also increases visibility and security, making it less likely to be targeted by potential threats.

If you cannot find someone to go with you, make sure a couple of people know when you are headed out, where you are going, and when you should be back. That way, if something happens, you know someone will be calling for your search.

Stay alert, stay upright

Speaking of threats, they are out there. We aren’t just talking about people who may threaten you, but the walking environment itself. Traffic signals can catch you by surprise halfway across the road if you didn’t realize you were entering the road at the very end of the green light. Road crossings themselves may be across busy streets, and pedestrian right-of-way rules vary based on where you are. Avoid distractions or listening to loud music that can impair your ability to notice hazards. Stay vigilant and be cautious of uneven surfaces, potholes and other hazards. I have treated more people who were injured by tripping than I have from being struck by a car.

Posture and gait can significantly reduce the risk of falls and strains. Walk upright and without slouching, look straight ahead, and swing your arms naturally. Take shorter steps and maintain a moderate pace to ensure stability and balance. If you feel pain when you are walking, you need to talk to a physical therapist or your primary healthcare provider for gait and balance exercises.

What about the weather?

Check the weather forecast before heading out. Rain, extreme heat, and wind usually don’t come without warning and a quick check before you leave will tell you how far you should walk. Dress accordingly and bring protective gear such as a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, umbrella or a light rain jacket. Change your normal practices for weather conditions because the weather won’t change for you no matter what names you call it.

Walking is a fantastic exercise promoting physical fitness and overall well-being. You can minimize risks associated with walking outdoors by choosing a safe route, wearing appropriate clothing and shoes, having water, and being mindful of where you are going. Be safe out there.

Christian M. Hartley is a 40-year Alaskan resident with over 25 years of public safety and public service experience. He is the City of Houston Fire Chief and also serves on many local and state workgroups, boards and commissions related to safety. He lives in Big Lake with his wife of 19 years and their three teenage sons.


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