Riding a bike, hitting slopes with your skis, driving a motorcycle, rock climbing, and going horseback riding all have something in common: they require the use of a helmet. Just as you should always wear your seatbelt in a car, you should always wear a helmet when doing an activity that potentially endangers your head.
When riding a bicycle, wearing a helmet lowers your chances of mild, serious, and fatal head injuries. Researchers have found similar safety benefits of helmet use while skiing and snowboarding. Additionally, states that require all motorcyclists to wear a helmet have significantly lower fatality rates when compared to states that don’t have comprehensive helmet laws.
Simply put, helmets save lives. However, it isn’t enough just to wear a helmet. You must know how to use them correctly if you want to have fun and stay safe while doing so.
Helmets Aren’t Just for Children
There’s a common misconception that only children need to wear helmets, but this isn’t true. Everyone should wear a helmet, regardless of their age, to protect themselves while doing certain recreational activities. As an adult, your brain may no longer be developing as a child’s brain would, but you can still experience devastating head injuries.
Unfortunately, helmet use isn’t always consistent among adults and adolescents. There are many reasons people choose not to use helmets. Some may think it’s uncool, uncomfortable, or unnecessary. Others may not even have a helmet to begin with.
None of these reasons are good enough to opt out of wearing a helmet. It may not be the most fashionable item in your closet — especially compared to the popular trends of the day — but it is one of the most important. Ultimately, the potentially fatal consequences of not wearing a helmet far outweigh the harm to your outfit or the slight discomfort you may feel.
Different Activities Require Different Helmets
That being said, you can’t use the same helmet for every activity. Each activity comes with a unique set of risks. Helmets are typically designed to protect the head against common injuries associated with that particular activity, and may not be as effective when protecting against injuries common in other sports.
This means, for instance, that you shouldn’t wear your bike helmet on a horseback ride. While this is likely better than not having any helmet, a bike helmet won’t protect your head if you were to get hurt. After all, getting kicked by a horse isn’t a common concern when riding a bike. To be safe, you need a helmet designed specifically for horseback riding.
Choose a Helmet That Fits
For a helmet to protect your head, it has to fit properly. Further, if it’s uncomfortable, you may be discouraged from using it altogether.
Here’s how to fit a helmet:
- Measure your head: Use a tape measure (or a piece of string and a ruler) to find out the circumference of your head. Place the tape measure about an inch above your eyebrows, as this is the biggest part of your head. Take your measurement in either centimeters or inches.
- Determine your size: Like clothing, bike helmets come in different sizes, typically ranging from extra small to extra large. Pay attention to your head measurement and use it to determine your helmet size. Different helmet brands may have their own sizing systems, so use your measured size as a rough guideline when you go shopping. If you’re in between sizes, size down instead of up.
- Position it correctly: When trying on a helmet, position it correctly on your head. It shouldn’t come down to your eyebrows or be pushed above your forehead. The helmet should be somewhat level, with the front coming down over your forehead and the back hitting roughly the same place on the other side of your head.
- Move it around: Move the helmet around to see how it fits; it should be snug, stable, and comfortable. Push it front to back, as well as side to side. It should be able to move, but not much. If it barely moves, it may be too small or tight. If it moves a lot, it’s likely too big or loose.
Once you’ve found the right helmet, you can then adjust it for an even better fit. Most helmets come with straps, clips, wheels, and other mechanisms you can use to make them tighter.
You Can Wear a Hat Under Your Helmet
Whether it’s part of your outfit or your sun protection routine, you can wear a hat under your helmet, even if you have a larger head. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to put on just any kind of hat, though. Thin or flexible hats, such as athletic caps and camp hats, will fit better under a helmet than a structured hat. These other protective hats, like trucker hats and snapbacks, are better saved for outdoor activities that don’t require a helmet.
Whatever hat you pick, make sure it fits your head properly. It should be similarly snug so your helmet stays in position. You may also need to adjust your helmet to account for the extra material of your hat.
Children Don’t Always Need to Wear Helmets
While children must wear a helmet to prevent head injuries and trauma, they only need to do so in certain situations, such as when riding a bike or playing sports like football or hockey. In many others, they don’t need to, even if it seems like they do. This includes using playground equipment and climbing trees. Helmets can increase the danger of these activities, due to the potential for strangulation.
Additionally, babies shouldn’t wear a helmet until they can hold their heads up on their own unless they require helmet molding therapy. If you have any questions about when your child can or should wear a helmet, talk with your pediatrician to determine the best and safest course of action.
Know When to Buy a New Helmet
Even if you’ve purchased the right helmet and know when and how to use it, you will have to get a new one at some point in the future.
If your helmet experiences any kind of impact, you need to replace it as soon as possible. It may look fine, but the protective materials may have been compressed or damaged by the impact. If it’s done its job once, it might not be as effective the second time around and could increase the risk of serious injury.
If you make it through several years without any impacts, you’ll still need to replace your helmet eventually. The materials degrade over time, making them less effective. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends replacing your helmet five to 10 years after purchasing it, depending on how it was used and stored. To be on the safe side, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for replacement.
Ultimately, everyone can benefit not only from wearing a helmet but also from learning about how to use them. It’s a simple way to reduce the risks of recreation so you can enjoy yourself without worrying about your safety.