Gardening is basically manual labour. Sure, it’s end-result is flowers, veggies, herbs, and fruit, but it’s mechanics and processes, however recreational, are the same as those that really break a body down.
So, if you use the summer months to garden, make sure you’re using the time to grow vegetables, enjoy the outdoors, stay active, and get some exercise, and not nursing a sore back, stiff knees, or an injured shoulder, or worse… planting the seed of an injury-to-come by nurturing bad work habits.
Follow these simple guidelines to happy, healthy, long-term growing!
1. Gardening IS exercise! Just like any other thing during which you ask your body to perform ‘abnormal’ tasks. So treat it like exercise: warm up your muscles and joints with a 5-10 min walk, and don’t forget about stretching.
2. Don’t lock into one activity for too long: change positions / motions every 15-30 minutes. Positions like crouching, kneeling, and bending are very hard on your joints. Frequent changes help prevent repetitive-motion stress and injury.
3. Gardening is a long-term commitment: it takes months to show results, and years upon years to master. Why mention this: you’re not going to get it all done at once! So don’t work like you’re going to! Take frequent breaks. High performance athletes take breaks… you should too.
4. Drink water continuously. Dehydration can affect you in many serious ways: it contributes to serious cardiac issues, dizziness and falling, and plays havoc with the body as it attempts to recover from exercise.
5. Sun safety is always important, and just because you’re not trying to soak up the sun, doesn’t mean you’re not.
6. Comfortable, work-appropriate clothing and work-appropriate footwear are important; they not only prevent injuries (like stubbed toes and abrasions). Most importantly, good work-shoes will allow you to work confidently with long-handled tools (hoes, rakes, shovels) without risking awkward angles and over-extension.
7. Work Smart, using proper body mechanics:
a) Avoid repetitive bending, especially at your lower back or neck, as this avoids muscle and disc injuries
- Get close to the task. If you need force, be sure to do it close to your center of gravity (your navel).
- Avoid bending and twisting, and putting excessive strain on your muscles and joints.
- Bend and lift with the knees and hips, and keep your back straight when lifting. Use your legs to get low to reach something. Leg muscles are designed for squatting; lift with your legs, bend with your legs.
- Switch hands frequently when pulling weeds, pruning, cutting to avoid fatigue and repetitive motion injury
- Use long-handled tools to limit your need for bending and reaching
8. Keep a first aid kit on hand, and SEEK TREATMENT for injuries if they persist beyond 24 hours.