Put a Waddle in Your Walk

Courtney Roush, PT

Winter is here in the Northwoods and along with the snow comes the dreaded ice—sometimes where we least expect it. It is very easy to lose our footing in icy conditions but there are simple ways to increase our safety. Penguins have lots of experience walking on ice and we can all learn from them.

Penguins improve their balance on ice by extending their arms outward to maintain balance. It is a good idea to keep your hands out of your pockets for quicker reaction time. Penguin’s feet are pointed slightly outward and spread farther apart which also improves their balance. Walking on ice your feet should be at least shoulder width apart for a steady base of support. Keep your knees bent slightly to lower your center of gravity and to help you react to a loss of balance quickly.

Move slowly when on dicey surfaces, assume all wet or dark areas on pavement are icy and approach with caution. Take short steps, like a penguin, and walk at a slower pace so you can react quickly to any change in traction.

Normally when we walk our leg’s ability to support our weight is split mid-stride with one leg out in front of us. But a penguin’s center of gravity is always over one foot which improves their balance. When walking on ice keep your center of gravity over your front foot, with shorter step lengths. When stepping off curbs make sure you step down onto a stable leg, not a large step out from a curb.

Proper footwear is also essential for being safe on slippery surfaces. Avoid boots/shoes with smooth sides and heels. Instead wear shoes with traction: non-slip rubber or neoprene with grooved soles. Yaktrax or other ice grippers worn over shoes can significantly improve grip when walking. It is important to remember to remove the ice gripper from shoes before walking inside because they are slippery on indoor surfaces.

It is a good idea to be more mindful and cautious while walking outside these winter months and to channel our inner penguin. But most importantly we encourage you to stay active. As the penguin reminds us: Waddle on!

Written by Courtney Roush. Courtney Roush is a physical therapist at Memorial Medical Center in Ashland.