Spring is here! Time to get active and enjoy the outdoors! Gardening and caring for outdoor plants is one activity that allows one to combine physical activity with outdoor beauty and fresh air. Whether gardening to grow food or flowers or to landscape and maintain a yard, gardening offers low- to moderate-intensity exercise. The pulling, digging, reaching, twisting, and bending of gardening amounts to light aerobic exercise, which improves psychological wellbeing, heart and lung health, helps prevent obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, some cancers, and so many more healthy benefits. In addition, these whole body movements increase endurance, strength, balance and flexibility, better hand function, bone density as well as burns calories. Regular garden chores can burn anywhere from 120 to 200 calories per half hour depending on the intensity of the activity.
For the most part, gardening is a safe, beneficial activity but can lead to injury if precautions are not taken. Therefore, it is important to take note of garden safety to prevent injury from movement or improper use of tools.
Regardless of age, experts quoted in an AARP article, warn against jumping into gardening activities without preparing and warming up a little bit. Rather, they recommend pre-gardening preparation to build strength, stamina, and aerobic power to prevent injury as well as talking to your doctor before beginning any new regiment. The following exercises are recommended to strength garden muscles prior to gardening:
- Walk to warm up the muscles and build core strength. Stand tall and concentrate on core muscles as you move to support the back.
- Sit-to-stand exercises (raising from a chair to stand position without using hands) help to strengthen the thigh muscles and the core muscles for stability and improve mobility. Set a goal to see how many can be done in 30 seconds several times daily.
- Hamstring stretches help to keep the muscles loose and prevent lower back, knee, and foot pain. There are numerous ways to stretch hamstrings so it is best to find the stretching exercise that is personally best.
- Planks are great for building body strength as well as stretching and building strength in the arms, fingers and hands. Planks can be done on the floor or against a wall.
- Practice balance by standing on one foot to build stability and prevent falling.
Once one has properly prepared for gardening, safety should always be first and foremost in the way we use our body and tools in the garden. For your comfort, safety, and for the good of your back and knees, keep these tips in mind:
- warm up and stretch prior to activity;
- begin with light movements;
- stand tall occasionally to stretch the legs and roll the shoulders to relieve tension;
- lift with one’s legs instead of back to prevent back injury;
- avoid repetition; switch up activity every 15 minutes;
- practice caution when raking and shoveling; learn safe use of rakes and shovels from Virginia Cooperative Extension to prevent strain to the back, shoulders, and wrists;
- kneel instead of bending; consider wearing knee pads or using a cushion;
- apply sun screen with a SPF of 30 and ultraviolet A and B protection;
- consume plenty of water while working to stay hydrated;
- wear a hat or other protective clothing as needed; mask when using chemicals;
- wear gloves to protect hands from blisters, chemicals, sharp tools, etc.;
- use the correct tool for the job;
- maintain your tools and use them properly. (See Hand Tools Safety: Lawn Care Training Guide. Hand Tool Care and Safe Use and Lawn and Garden Safety Tips – CPSC Urges Care with Springtime Chores.)
Gardening not only provides physical activity but can also be a great source of happiness. You may garden to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables or beautify your world. Whatever your reason, enjoy your gardening chores but keep your body fit and work safely to prevent injury.
- Preparing Your Body for the Gardening Season Ahead, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
- Inspire to Move – Gardening is Exercise, University of Illinois
- Hand Tools Safety: Lawn Care Training Guide, Hand Tool Care and Safe Use, Virginia Cooperative Extension
- Lawn and Safety Tips – CPSC Urges Care with Springtime Chores, US Consumer Products Safety Commission
- The Many Benefits of Gardening, Barclay Friends
- 6 Ways to Get Gardening Muscles in Shape and Prevent Injuries, AARP
- Prevent Injury in the Garden with Proper Posture, Tool Use, and Stretches, Utah State University Health and Wellness Extension