Get It Growing: Make Gardening A Healthy Activity

Daniel Gill  |  11/2/2006 1:13:42 AM

Get It Growing News For 11/28/2003

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Gardening is a well-documented and beneficial form of exercise.

It contributes to a healthy life-style, and I am always impressed when I meet people in their 70s, 80s and even 90s who are still actively gardening.

But the strenuous activities also can cause problems, as well, especially for those of us who get very little exercise sitting at desks (and in front of TVs) during the week and then go out and overdo it on the weekend. Sore muscles, aching backs, blisters and even sprains are common complaints of the weekend gardener.

The following information provides tips for maintaining your most important gardening tool – your body.

  • Use proper body positioning to minimize muscle fatigue and soreness.
  • Before you begin gardening, take a few minutes to stretch, which will help minimize muscle soreness and the risk of tendonitis.
  • Let your general daily physical activity level serve as your guide for how long you can garden.
  • Even if you do not feel fatigued, take a break for a few minutes every half hour.
  • Change gardening tasks frequently. For example, if you are weeding and using the small muscles of your hands, rotate this task with watering or hoeing or trimming shrubs, where you are using larger muscles in a standing position.
  • Bend at the knees and hips, not your back, to lift and hold objects. Maintain a firm grip with both hands.
  • Use an erect body posture when working with long-handled garden tools, such as hoes, spades and rakes.
  • When it is necessary to work above shoulder level, perform the task for five minutes or less. Then take a break or perform another activity before continuing.
  • Keep the elbows partially bent while gardening, especially when doing resistive activities requiring elbow strength such as pushing.
  • Avoid twisting the forearms back and forth on a repetitive basis – for example, pulling weeds by twisting the forearm palm up and then palm down. Consider using a weeding tool.
  • Whenever possible, work with the forearms in a neutral position, thumbs up.

Selecting the right tools also makes a big difference. Keep these tips in mind when choosing which tools are best for you:

  • Avoid tools that seem awkward for you to use. Ergonomic tools designed around human anatomy and proper body mechanics are ideal.
  • Use lightweight, yet sturdy, tools. The handles should be covered with rubber to minimize friction. If your existing tools have wooden or metal handles, consider adding padded tape, such as "Wrap N Grip" or pipe insulation foam.
  • Particularly tall or short individuals should carefully evaluate the length of the long-handled tools they use to avoid excessive strain on the back.
  • A proper handle design on gardening tools is critical. Handles should be cylindrical and have a diameter between 1.25 inches and 1.75 inches.
  • Be sure to keep tools sharp with a tool sharpener, such as a file or honing stone.
  • Keep tools with moving parts in good working order and well oiled so there is little resistance with use.

Finally, gardening gloves also can make a difference. Here are some tips to keep in mind with choosing your gardening gloves:

  • Gloves protect hands from hazardous chemicals, sharp items and blisters. They help minimize the effects of vibration.
  • On the other hand, gloves decrease the feeling in the hand and decrease hand strength by as much as 30 percent.
  • Gloves should be form-fitting without being restrictive. Thin gloves are preferable – even though they generally will not last as long.
  • Gloves should be made of material appropriate for the specific task, such as rubber gloves for mixing chemicals, leather gloves for pruning and cloth gloves for digging in the soil.

It also is interesting to note that working on the hands and knees is common but can cause problems.

You should avoid putting your weight on an open palm for long periods. Try to remain upright on your knees with your weight on your heels. Or, if you do have to get down on all fours, make a fist and place the flat knuckled portion of your hand on the ground instead of your palm, making sure to keep the wrist straight. This will minimize pressure on the carpel tunnel and reduce injury to that area.

The important part is to spend as much time and energy thinking about taking care of yourself as you do thinking about taking care of your garden. After all, each of us has only one body, and our bodies need to last as long as we have gardens to tend.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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