During the cold winter months, you are at an increased risk of slipping and falling while going about everyday activities like walking from your car to your front door. Building and maintaining your muscles — especially when you have to travel on slippery ice and snow — is critically important to keeping your body strong, improving your physical resiliency, and minimizing the likelihood that you will fall.

Carrie Mancini is Central Vermont Home Health & Hospice’s rehab coordinator and a practicing physical therapist. Carrie works with clients living with a range of conditions, including those recovering from joint replacement or a fall.

Carrie says there are small steps you can take every day to maintain your overall physical health. “It is so important to do what you can to keep your body as strong, limber, and as active as you can manage. This puts you in the best possible position for a quick and easy recovery should you ever fall and injure yourself. Plus, by maintaining your overall health, you are likely to experience an increase in your energy, and you may feel happier — an added benefit during our dark Vermont winters.”

Here are three things that you can do to build and maintain your muscles, plus two tips for walking safely on the ice and snow.

Do what makes you happy. Carrie gives the same advice to all her clients. “Find an activity you love, and do it,” she says. “Regular exercise keeps the blood flowing to your muscles. It also helps maintain your range of motion, and it keeps your heart and lungs strong. Plus, it will make you feel great and increase your energy.”

Take a walk. Carrie says that walking is one of the best exercises you can do. “Walking uses your whole body, your core, your arms, and your legs, and it can help improve balance and coordination.” In the winter, many people choose to walk inside, on a treadmill or at the mall. If you go outside, Carrie says to make sure to dress warmly. Wear fleece or wool over a light synthetic layer with a water-resistant outer layer, and be sure to choose the proper footwear. Wear shoes with a good tread to improve traction, and consider a studded overshoe, like Yaktrax, for additional support. Avoid heels and leather soles.

Focus on your Quads. Sit-to-stand exercises are a good option to build your core and quadriceps muscles. Your quads, which are key to helping you maintain your balance, make up the bulk of your thighs and are some of the largest muscles in your body. There are many resources available on the internet with step-by-step instructions for this exercise, including Go4Life from the National Institute on Aging at NIH. Go4Life is a wealth of information about exercises geared toward older adults. You can visit them at https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/.

Bonus tips: how to walk safely on ice & snow

Keep supplies close. Keep a shovel and salt near your entryway, and create a winter safety kit for your car with a small shovel and salt, or kitty litter, to sprinkle in front of you as you walk.

Walk like a penguin. Extend your arms at your sides and spread your feet slightly. Keep your knees loose, and shuffle side to side rather than taking big steps forward.

For more information about CVHHH’s services, visit www.cvhhh.org. Be safe this winter!

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