Life Times Newsletter

Fall 2006
Vol. 8, No. 4

Eight tips for healthy gardening

Timothy W. Horton, MS
Horticulture Specialist

     Did you know gardening is the number one leisure activity in the United States? Gardening can be therapeutic for the mind, body and spirit—and also a form of exercise. One hour of weeding burns about 300 calories. (If you need a place to weed, I have plenty at my house.)
    Gardening can promote increased range of motion, help improve motor skills and help develop hand-eye coordination. Gardening also can be used for physical therapy, as a hobby or as a way to provide fresh food at low costs.
    Despite numerous benefits to gardening, some drawbacks exist as well. Many gardeners can relate to the aches and pains often associated with working in the garden. Think about what gardening entails: stooping low to the ground, sometimes using heavy, sharp tools, and staying in the same physical position for long periods of time. Walking over uneven ground can be dangerous as well.
    You don’t have to succumb to all of the physical challenges of gardening. By adjusting your body position and modifying your gardening tools, you will be able to spend more time “in the trenches” and less time nursing that sore hand or back.
    The following eight-point plan can help you recognize your body’s capabilities and enjoy gardening more.

1.   Remember gardening is exercise. As with any exercise, it is important to warm up your muscles before beginning physical activity. Do light stretching before you start working in the garden, especially of your arms, legs, neck and back.

2.   Change body positions frequently to avoid overworking one set of muscles. Don’t hold one position too long or do any one activity for too long a time. Move around, and shake out those worked muscles. Change hands, and take frequent breaks. Create rest areas as part of your garden by placing decorative benches or garden chairs in shady spots around the garden. If you have been bending over, weeding for a while, give your back a break and do an activity that allows you to sit or stand up straight. And while we are talking about standing up, remember what your mother told you: Stand up straight! Your lower back muscles will thank you later on.

3.  Keep elbows tucked in, close to your sides, when moving heavy loads or raking. This action causes the upper muscles in your arms to share
some of the workload with your hands and forearms. By doing this, muscles in those areas won’t tire so quickly.

4.  Use the laws of physics to your advantage. You gain more power by creating more leverage. Choose longer-handled tools, and grip the tools closer to your body to increase leverage.

5.  When using hand tools, avoid digging with a “jab and twist” motion; use chopping motions instead. For example, digging a hole with a small hand trowel requires bending and twisting your wrist. This creates strain and tires wrist muscles. Use a larger spade instead that allows you to “chop” a hole, using your larger arm muscles to pull soil towards you. This will be less painful to sensitive hands.

6.  Use lightweight tools. Many sturdy garden tools made of nylon and reinforced fiberglass are available at garden centers. These are much lighter than traditional metal tools, so it takes less energy to hold and use them.

7. Use a mailbox to store small hand tools in the garden. Decorative mailboxes can add charm to your garden and let you store tools right where you need them.

8.  Hand tools with larger grips are easier to hold and use. Tools with larger grips require less squeezing force from your hands, so your hands won’t tire as quickly. You can enlarge or soften the tool handles yourself.

While gardening can be fun and relaxing, it also can create aches and pains for your body. By remembering these tips, you can minimize the time you spend nursing stresses and strains and more time enjoying the fruits of your
gardening labors!

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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller