If you’ve ever pulled and strained to remove a pesky vine, or twisted and stretched while kneeling in the flowerbed, then you know gardeners get their share of physical exercise. But communing with nature may prove difficult for those who aren’t in the best physical shape.
Gardening requires a lot of bending, stretching, lifting and moving in occasionally awkward ways. That’s why it’s important to be aware of good body mechanics and physical conditioning before getting your garden into shape. Most people tend to overdo it, thinking it’s a fun hobby and failing to regard it as physical activity—and, of course, they want to get their gardens in shape in a single day.
“Gardening is very good for working various muscle groups and even can bring up your heart rate,” says Paula Kramer, PhD, chair of occupational therapy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. “But preventing injury or protecting a preexisting injury is part of how occupational therapy fits into everyday life.”
Dr. Kramer offers the following tips:
- Stretch before working in the garden. Even better, stretch for a few days before you start your work.
- Use a fat, rubberized or padded-handled trowel made from one piece of metal from top to bottom. This allows for a good grip under damp conditions, a lower risk of tool breakage, and less stress and strain on the arms and joints.
- Tools like shears or clippers with a spring-action, self-opening feature are helpful, but they should be well oiled so they open and close easily. You want to avoid straining muscles and joints.
- Sit while working, or take sitting breaks to conserve energy and decrease stress on your back, knees and hips. You can even dig a hole while sitting on a stool and using a shorter-handled shovel.
- When lifting potted plants or bags of mulch and dirt, bend knees and lift straight up, keeping your back as straight as possible. Concentrate on using the leg muscles, rather than back muscles, to lift. Avoid twisting and turning while lifting, as this can strain your back.
- Don’t try to whip your entire garden into shape in one day. This leads to overdoing and sore Monday mornings.
An occupational therapist can help you find solutions if you have a preexisting condition that prevents you from enjoying your favorite hobby.