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  • Monika Getty

Pain Free Gardening

I love to garden; I love seeing what I've planted start to grow, bloom, producing food and flowers. However, I think we all know that gardening can bring it's share of aches and pains with it, which is why we have to garden smarter, not harder. Here are some tips to keep your gardening experience as pain and injury free as possible.

Approach gardening as you would any exercise. If you think about it, gardening really is one of the original full body workouts. Do a warm up; this can be anything from going for a walk beforehand, simple range of motion exercises like arm circles, squats, marching in place or whatever works for you. Do this for at least 10 minutes.

Set attainable goals. We've all been there; you have a weekend free and plan on getting the soil turned and the entire garden planted by the end of it. Don't fall into this trap! Set realistic goals and assess your progress and how you are feeling every hour or so. As they say Rome wasn't built in a day!

Pace yourself and switch tasks often. Switch tasks every 30 minutes or so to avoid sustaining uncomfortable positions such as kneeling, bending and crouching. Every hour take a break and rehydrate with water to replace lost fluids.

Keep proper body mechanics in mind. Bend with your knees, not your back. Avoid large twisting movements; turn your whole body and move your feet. Use a low stool when weeding instead of squatting close to the ground. Use a wheelbarrow for transport instead of lifting and carrying; if you have to lift, keep the weight close to your body and lift with your legs, not your back. If you need to kneel, use a cushion to help protect your knees; kneel on one knee instead of both to avoid lower back strain and switch knees often. Use long handled tools so that you can stay more upright. Keep overhead work to 5 minute intervals and avoid overstretching. Avoid prolonged pinching or squeezing with tools especially if you suffer from arthritis.

Sun protection. This is so important! The incidence of skin cancer is going up and we need to do all we can to avoid this. Wear loose, long sleeved shirts and pants if possible, wear a large brimmed hat, use sunscreen. If you can work in the shade on a hot sunny day, do so.

Ask for help. This is a tough one for me as I feel that I should be able to do it all. If you have something hard or heavy to do, ask a family member or a friendly neighbour for help. You can always reward them with the fruits of your labours; who doesn't appreciate a nice bouquet of flowers or some fresh tomatoes?

Listen to your body. If your body is telling you it needs a break, is tired or is hurting, listen. Pushing yourself beyond can lead to days if not weeks of recovery; then you can't do much of anything and may have to take time off of work and curtail any other plans you had.

The University of Madison-Wisconsin has some videos about how to enjoy lifelong gardening safely. Check it out here:

Studies have shown that gardening makes you happier; not just because you're out in the fresh air, getting exercise and accomplishing tasks, but because there are microbes in the dirt that can actually change your brain chemistry to make you happier! More information about this can be found here:

So enjoy your gardening, but do it safely, smartly and reap the rewards for years to come.

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