This Fall, Stay Active—and Safe—Outdoors

Jon Pynoos, UPS Foundation Professor at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology
Professor Jon Pynoos

Editor’s note: Jon Pynoos is the UPS Foundation Professor of Gerontology, Policy and Planning at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Director of the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification, and Co-Director of the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence.

With autumn upon us, we’re trading farmers markets and trips to the beach for football games and walks in the park. We’re still as active as ever, just grabbing a sweater on our way out the door.

Whether you are out and about to stay active or making a quick trip to the store, it’s important to take steps to avoid a fall.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most fractures older people experience are caused by falls. Each year, 2.5 million older adults are treated in emergency departments for their fall injuries. Having a chronic disease such as arthritis, diabetes, or osteoporosis increases the risk of falling. Many think that only frail older adults need to be concerned about preventing falls, but active older adults are also at risk, especially when outdoors. In fact, researchers at the University of Massachusetts found in 2011 that most older adults who fall outdoors are more active, take fewer medications, and in better health than those who fall indoors.

September 22, 2016 is National Fall Prevention Awareness Day, a perfect time to take steps to reduce falls in your home and outdoor activities! Falls happen to people of all ages, but the chances of falling, and being seriously injured in a fall, increase with age. However, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of falls when outdoors.

Be Aware of When and Where You Walk

When walking in the community, watch out for uneven sidewalks. Walk in pairs or groups so you can alert each other of potential hazards. Consider going to well-maintained places like gyms, malls, and high school tracks. At night, walk where there is plenty of light to help you see where you are going. Carry a small flashlight that can fit in your pocket, purse, or on a keychain so you always have a light source if needed.

Eyewear Can Make a Difference

Be sure you are wearing the correct eyewear while walking —bifocals or reading glasses make it harder to see hazards on the ground. On bright days, wear sunglasses to help reduce glare. Have your vision checked once a year or when your vision changes. This can ensure your prescriptions are up-to-date.

Physical Activity to Reduce Fall Risk

Exercises that are especially effective at reducing fall risk work on improving balance, strength, flexibility, and endurance. Examples include strength-training exercises, such as lunges or squats, and Tai Chi, which can improve balance and endurance. Any time you’re considering a new kind of physical activity, talk with your doctor or a physical therapist to get a fall risk assessment and see what types of exercises would best match your abilities and fall risk level. Make an activity plan that fits your interests – you’ll be more likely to continue activities you enjoy.

These Shoes Were Made for Walking

Wear shoes with firm soles and low heels, and make sure to wear sturdy shoes when exercising. Pay attention to the bottom of your shoes and replace them when the treads begin to wear out. Just like the tires on a car, the soles of your shoes can only walk so many miles before they need to be replaced.

Safe Travels

When traveling to new places or in your own neighborhood, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. Use caution in parking lots and garages, and be aware of curbs, car stops, and changes in elevation. While riding public transportation such as buses and trains, always use handrails when available. When crossing the street, walk in crosswalks and use curb cuts or ramps when they are present. Stop at islands in the middle of the street when available and wait for the next walk sign. Always take your time; hurrying across streets puts you at risk of falling.

For More Information
  • Learn how to reduce your fall risk at StopFalls.org
  • Get tips for maintaining independence at home at HomeMods.org
  • See photos from actual homes that show how design and home modification can support independent living at LifetimeHome.org