Gardening isn’t a fitness sport, but it sure can produce a lot of pleasure. And if you do it hard enough and long enough, it’s great exercise, too.
Gardening stretches and strengthens you. It cultivates your mind while putting your body to work bending, digging, lifting and carrying. If you’re not used to all that activity, or if you do it in a mindless, careless way, you can strain your back, wreck your wrists or hurt your shoulders. So allow me to plant some seeds of wisdom.
Here are some injury-prevention tips to make your gardening easier, safer and more satisfying:
- Warm up before weeding. To avoid injuries and morning-after aches and pains, take a few minutes to warm up your muscles and joints before you put them to work in your garden.
Focus on the major muscles in your arms, legs, back, shoulders and neck. Move them through their range of motion. Get the juices flowing.
And don’t forget to shake out and stretch your wrists and hands. This is especially important for senior gardeners, because the older we get, the tighter we get, and tight, inflexible muscles are much more vulnerable to injuries.
- Protect your knees. Invest in a kneeling pad or make one out of old foam or a pillow. And don’t stay in a kneeling position for too long. Flex and bend your knees from time to time just to keep them happy.
- Protect your back. Don’t sit in the same position for too long. Take breaks. Avoid twisting, jerking or straining your back.
The smart thing to do is keep your back strong and flexible throughout the year so that, when you get into your garden, you are good to go, and good to grow.
- Learn to lift. Before you lift a rock, haul fertilizer or move a heavy load, think about the safe way to do it. To avoid injuries, gently bend at the knees, not the waist. Keep your back straight, engage your abs and lift slowly, using your legs to carry the load.
When carrying heavy things, keep your arms and the object as close to your body as possible, not out in front of you. And don’t overdo it. If you think something is too heavy, it is. Get help.
- Bend and breathe. When you shovel dirt, let’s say, or spread fertilizer, remember to bend your knees and step into the action. Don’t hold your breath and stiffen up. Working in a garden is all about going with the flow. Your breath is your ally.
Breathe deeply and exhale fully when you garden.
- Drink water and avoid too much sun. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after you garden. Sip and you sow, you might say, and don’t overdo your sun exposure. I personally don’t like the idea of smearing on a lot of chemical-laden sunscreen and then going out into the sun and baking it into your skin, but I do suggest that you be cautious about sun exposure. Wear a hat or visor to protect your face and a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Use your energy. Gardening can burn anywhere from 200 to 500 calories an hour, depending on who you are and how hard you work. But one thing is true for everyone: The more energy you put into your gardening, the more calories you burn.
Go for manual clippers, mowers and trimmers instead of the electric kind. Look for ones that are ergonomically correct, to lessen the strain on your body. And work at a steady, mindful pace.
- Cultivate other activities. Gardening can be excellent exercise, with many health benefits, but to really strengthen and improve your cardiovascular system, you need to supplement with aerobic activities such as fitness walking, running or biking. The more endurance you develop doing these other activities, the easier your gardening will be.
Remember: Gardening grows on you. The more you do it - the more energy you expend - the better it is for you. Gardening can give your mind and body a welcome workout. But don’t overdo it. Relax and enjoy your time with Mother Nature in all the ways you can.
More and more, scientists are finding a profound connection between music and health. Here are three ways you can plug music into your own healthy lifestyle:
- Reduce stress. Next time you’re feeling tense, anxious and overstressed, sit down and listen to some slow-moving music. Classical music may work the best, like Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21,” but poke around until you find a piece that brings peace and calm to you.
Sit comfortably, close your eyes, follow the rhythm of your heart.
- Enhance performance. If you want to walk faster, run quicker or bike harder, do it while listening to music with a stronger, quicker beat. The pulse of the music will push your own pulse, but don’t overdo it. You want to work hard, but not so hard you’re out of breath and can’t speak.
- Rock and role play. This is a great way to re-energize after a draining day of work. Just pretend you’re a conductor. Put on a piece of music that really moves you and begin to move your arms to the beat. Imagine you are leading the band and keep that going for at least five minutes.
Once you’re warmed up, get more of your body involved. Swing and sway, pump and jump, express yourself as wildly as you want.
Write Marilynn Preston in care of The Light, 565 Pearl St., Suite 300, La Jolla, 92037.