If you have ever pulled and strained to remove that pesky vine, or twisted and stretched while kneeling in the flower bed, then you know that gardeners get their share of physical exercise. Spring is often the time when we plant gardens that will reap a summer of lovely flowers and healthy vegetables. But while this popular outdoor leisure activity has stress-relieving benefits, it can also be physically challenging.
Gardening requires a lot of bending, stretching, lifting, and moving in ways that we don’t typically do. It is important to think about good body mechanics and physical conditioning before you start getting that garden in shape.
“Gardening is very good for working various muscle groups and can even bring up your heart rate,” said Paula Kramer, PhD, chair and professor of occupational therapy at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. “But gardening can be risky, and preventing injury or protecting a pre-existing injury is part of how occupational therapy fits in to every day life.”
Before you tackle those weeds, Dr. Kramer offers the following tips to safely tend your garden:
· Stretch, even for a few days prior, before you begin working in the garden.
· Use a fat, rubberized or padded handled trowel made from one piece of metal from top to bottom. This allows for a tight grip under damp conditions, less possibility of breakage in the tool, and less strain on the arms and joints.
· Tools, such as shears or clippers, with a spring-action, self-opening feature are helpful to prevent strain on the muscles and joints, but they should be well-oiled to open and close easily.
· Sit while working or take sitting breaks to conserve energy and decrease stress on your back, knees, and hips. Sitting doesn’t have to mean not working: you can dig holes while sitting on a stool using a shorter-handled shovel.
· When lifting potted plants or bags of mulch and dirt, bend your knees and lift straight up, keeping your back as straight as possible. Concentrate on using the leg muscles rather than the back muscles to lift, and avoid twisting and turning while lifting as this can strain your back.
· Do not try to whip your entire garden into shape in one day. This mentality leads to “over-doing it” and sore Monday mornings. Keep in mind that you wouldn’t play tennis for four hours on your first day of the season.
“Gardening is problematic, in that it is much more physical than it seems and is often underestimated. But with a few simple precautions and the right tools, you can take care of both your body and your garden.”