Healthy Gardening

Healthy Gardening

After working on your garden beds all day, do you crawl into your own bed feeling sore, stiff, and bent out of shape? Unlike other activities—sports, for example—in which you learn and master specific techniques, most gardeners simply get out there and “dig in” without thinking about the way they move. Therein lies the problem.

Misusing your body while you garden places stress on your muscular and skeletal systems, which can cause discomfort or injury. And when your movements are awkward and inefficient, you waste effort and energy. Below are some basic rules for moving carefully, correctly, and comfortably while you work at your garden chores.

Lifting: When lifting something heavy, we tend to anticipate the weight of the object and tense our bodies in preparation, which causes unnecessary tightening of muscles. Instead, let your body determine how much support is needed during the process. To effectively lift a heavy load, place one foot slightly in front of the other. Place your body weight over the forward leg for better balance—that way, your entire body can participate in the lift, with the powerful thigh muscles (quads) playing a major role.

When lifting anything heavy, always centre yourself directly in front of the object. Hold the load close to your midline for better balance and back protection. When exerting effort, do not hold your breath. Exhale through your mouth at the peak of the effort. Avoid lifting heavy objects overhead or lifting anything heavy if your footing
is insecure.

Bending: All bending movements should originate by inclining your torso forward from the hip joints while bending the knees. Over-rounding your back stresses your spinal disks. Your feet should be a comfortable distance apart; if they’re too close together, you won’t have a stable base. If you prefer, place one foot slightly in front of the other, which helps you lift yourself from a lowered position.

Gardener's Back Pain
Gardener’s Back Pain

5 Habits to Avoid

• Dropping your head too far backward
• Tensing and hunching your shoulders
• Bending over from the waist with knees locked
• Overarching the lower back
• Clutching with hands and fingers

Carrying: Your arms, not your hands and fingers, should be the predominant source of power when carrying objects. Avoid clutching heavy objects with your hands or fingertips. Carry heavy loads close to your midline to protect your back, arms, and shoulders. When carrying a heavy or bulky object such as a large flowerpot, rest it on your forearms and against your body, close to your midline. Whenever possible, avoid carrying a heavy load, such as a filled watering can, in one hand. This causes the body to sag or displaces one hip to the side, stressing your hip and lower back. A rule of thumb, green or otherwise: Make several trips carrying light loads rather than one back-stressing effort.

Pushing: When pushing a heavy load in a cart or wheelbarrow, use your leg strength to assist your arms and shoulders. When your knees are bent, your quads can support the push. When pushing a heavy load uphill, accompany the effort with deep, fluid breaths. Also try to keep your abdominal muscles pulled in for back protection. If you find the load too heavy to handle, let someone else take the handles.

Dragging and pulling: When moving backward and dragging something in front of you, such as a tarp filled with soil, keep your knees flexed and your back just slightly rounded. When moving forward and pulling something behind you, such as a wheelbarrow or hose, avoid twisting your upper torso. Face directly forward (shoulders squared) as you move, whether you’re pulling the load with one or both hands.

Reaching overhead: When working with your arms raised overhead (pulling at a vine or pruning a shrub), avoid locking your elbows or hunching your shoulders. For better stability and range of motion, place one foot slightly in front of the other. When reaching overhead, avoid arching your lower back. To keep neck strain at bay, avoid dropping your head too far backward. The higher you lift your chin, the more stress you’re placing on the cervical spine.

Turning: Make turning movements slowly and smoothly, whether you’re working on the ground or standing up. Abrupt, rapid twists and turns stress the spinal disks, especially if you twist from the waist only without moving your lower body. When moving soil or compost with a spade or pitchfork, swivel your entire body moving your feet in the direction you are moving the load.

After Gardening Relaxing

After Gardening Relaxing

After working long hours in the garden, you need more than a warm bath or hot shower to look and feel fresh as a daisy. Cleaning off the inevitable accumulation of garden grime is only part of the solution. To avoid muscular fatigue and discomfort due to overexertion, it’s worth the effort to do some muscle-relaxing stretches once your chores are completed.

Weary back, leg, and neck muscles will benefit from a mere few minutes (and that’s all it takes) of soothing, after-gardening moves. Because moist heat and humidity make tight muscles and stiff joints more receptive to relaxing, it’s most therapeutic to do the following stretches after you shower or bathe. Or, if you prefer, you can practice only the stretches that suit your needs. To enhance the relaxation response, always inhale before you stretch and exhale as you slowly move into the stretch. Keep your breathing smooth and fluid while maintaining it for the suggested counts.

Legs Up On A Raised
Legs Up On A Raised

For Your Back

Lie down on the floor and place your lower legs up on a raised and comfortable surface so that your legs are fully supported. (You need a chair, bed, or sofa that is as high as your thighs are long.) The surface must allow you to place your thighs closer than a right angle (i.e., nearer your chest). Relax your arms out to your sides at shoulder level, palms up. Rest in this position for one or two minutes, or for as long as it takes for your back muscles to relax.

Lie on your back with knees bent, both feet flat on the floor. Place your left leg over your right. Lower left leg toward the floor to your left, until you feel a stretch in the right hip and lower back. Keep upper back, shoulders, and head on the floor. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Return to centre and repeat on the other side.

Lie on your back with your knees bent toward your chest. Place your hands below the knees. Pull your thighs toward your chest, keeping your neck relaxed. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.

Resistance Band Hamstring Stretch
Resistance Band Hamstring Stretch

For Your Legs

Sit on the floor with your back against a wall and extend your legs in front, ankles together. Reach forward and hook a tie/belt around the balls of your feet. Keeping your knees straight, pull back firmly on the tie/belt until you feel tension in the back of your lower legs. Hold for 20 seconds, then release. (Relaxes calves/Achilles tendon.)

Lie on your back and extend your right leg forward. Extend your left leg up and loop a tie/belt around the back of your calf. Pull the leg gently toward you, keeping it as straight as possible, foot flexed. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 counts. Lower the leg and repeat on the other side. If this stretch is too strenuous, bend the opposite extended leg and place the foot on the floor. (Relaxes calf and hamstring.)

For Your Neck

For Your Neck

Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, your knees shoulder-width apart, and your hands hanging loosely at your sides. Tuck your chin toward your chest and slowly roll down, bringing your shoulders toward your knees. Hold for eight counts, allowing any tension in your neck to release. Return to the starting position by slowly unrolling your lower back, then your shoulders, and lastly your head. (Relaxes back of the neck.)

Sit in a chair and place your right hand on the top of your head, above your left ear. Gently pull your head toward your right shoulder. Hold the position for 30 seconds, keeping your left arm loose and relaxed. Repeat on the left side. (Relaxes side of the neck.)