Life Times Newsletter

Fall 2007
Vol. 9, No. 4

Gardening without pain: Tips for using and
modifying tools

Timothy W. Horton, MS
Former Horticulture Specialist 

   Keeping your garden looking its best often requires long hours “in the trenches” and can lead to aches and pains the following day. Gardeners can reduce their work and minimize these aches and pains by choosing the correct tool for the job at hand. This article examines different types of gardening tools and offers tips on how to best use them.
   Regardless of the garden tool you choose, it’s important to hold that tool properly. A person’s grip strength is
affected by the position of the wrist. You will achieve maximum grip strength when your wrist is in a relaxed or “neutral”
position. This position is achieved when your hand is held at the same angle as your forearm. Any deviation from this position can result in losing up to 25 percent of your gripping strength.
    The ulnar deviation (bent) wrist posture is the worst. When your wrist is bent, the tendons in your hand that flex your fingers are easily irritated by the extra exertion made when your wrist is in this position. The result: sore muscles and joints in your hands. So keep your wrist as straight as possible when using hand tools in the garden. Wraps and wrist braces are available to help gardeners keep their wrists in the proper position.
Now let’s take a look at some garden tools. Ergonomics is a buzz word that is getting a lot of attention in office furniture and kitchen utensils. Now we are seeing more ergonomic gardening tools available. An ergonomic garden tool has certain features designed to keep the user’s body in neutral positions. This will cause less physical stress and allow the gardener to work longer. Not all ergonomic tools are equal. When choosing a garden tool, you should examine it for certain features.

  •     Grip. The handle of a tool should have a textured, non-slip surface to add resistance and minimize the gripping strength needed to hold the tool. It should also be pliable to allow for a more comfortable grip. A good ergonomic tool will have an enlarged grip that requires less squeezing to hold the tool. The harder you have to squeeze a tool, the quicker your hands will tire. The handle should also be curved to fit the natural contour of the hand. You may also notice a depression or notch on the top of the handle. This feature serves as a resting place for your thumb when holding the tool. When your thumb is in this position, your wrist will be in a more neutral position as you garden. This allows for greater gripping strength and lessens the amount of stress on hand joints.

  •     Handle length. The length of the handle is also important. Longer handled tools provide more leverage and can allow for a two handled grip, which distributes the work load to larger muscle groups in the body. Longer handled tools also allow you to work from a sitting or standing position so you don’t have to bend all the way down to the ground. This can be important for a person who has stability issues or has trouble getting back up from the ground.

  •     Gloves.  A pair of gloves will minimize stresses to the hand. Not only do gloves provide protection for the skin, but you can purchase gloves that have non-slip surfaces to help you grip the tools and extra padding to protect your hand. 

  • Tips for modifying tools

    You can modify your existing tools to make them more ergonomically friendly. Be creative; many of these things may be just lying around your house.

    Party ‘Tid-bites’: Making healthy choices

    Damaris Karanja, MA
    Nutrition & Health Education Specialist

        Food is one of many pleasures of parties, holiday festivities, and other social gatherings at every time of the year. For many, the holiday season brings visions of candy, cookies and chocolate, but some traditional holiday foods can leave you guilt-free.
        Healthy eating is all about making wise choices. Holiday eating is no exception. We often put our focus on what not to eat, but there are still many nutritional goodies in our traditional dinner that we should not overlook. Luckily the holidays feature many healthy foods. It is a matter of how they are prepared and consumed.

    Where do you begin?

    Other holiday treats
    Nuts, dates, figs and dried fruit are popular holiday treats and can provide significant health benefits too. Nuts have mostly unsaturated fat, making them healthier choices. Serve nuts as snacks, like pecans, walnuts, almonds and peanuts in casseroles and salads, or in cookies and cakes.

    Finally, just because you are trying to eat healthfully doesn’t mean you need to avoid celebrations or accept a few extra pounds. Forget the all-or-nothing mind-set. Depriving yourself of special holiday foods, or feeling guilty when you do enjoy them, isn’t a healthful eating strategy. And deprivation and guilt certainly are not part of the holiday spirit!

    Duyff, R. (2006). American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide (3rd ed.). 
    John Wiley & Sons. American Dietetic Association

    Teaching children responsibility

    Maudie Kelly, MS
    Human Development Specialist

     In the past 30 years or so, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women employed outside the home. Prior to that, it was often assumed that it was the wife/mother’s responsibility to keep everything in the home clean, livable and presentable. However, in today’s world—with everyone so busy with work, community and school activities—it is often hard to take care of everything we need to do. This can lead to stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed. This, in turn, may prevent us from having enough time to nurture, support and enjoy each other as a family.
       There are many different ways, some very simple, to balance responsibilities within our family so no one person is stressed or overwhelmed for long periods of time. Responsible children will develop over time with continued parental guidance. As they are given simple chores and activities to do at home, children learn about responsibility. They also develop a sense of belonging, feel needed and gain a positive self-concept that will help them to become more independent adults.
       Children who are taught about responsibility learn to work with others, gain skills needed to organize and complete a task, and may learn a new skill or improve on another. Parents also benefit from teaching responsibility by sharing the workload with children, allowing more time for family fun and activities.
     A key point to remember about sharing responsibilities, especially of household tasks, is that it is important for all members of the family to be involved in the decision-making. Give children opportunities to make decisions within the limits of their ability. If they are more involved in the planning, they are more likely to “buy in” with the plans. Communicating clearly is very important. Parents need to make sure the child understands what they say. Everyone should have the chance to express opinions and make suggestions. Here are some ideas to help start the process.

    Children’s learning about responsibility is a long process that needs regular reinforcement. As a result, however, each family should have more time to share and play together, making the home a place where everyone is valued and cooperates.

    Adapted from Building Strong Families: Challenges and Choices Curriculum for Youth. Visit for more information.  

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    University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller