The Sport of Gardening? Dig Right In

Gardening — a healthy lifestyle activity in spades — isn’t an aerobic sport. It won’t make you fit the way running, walking and biking will, but it sure can produce lots of pleasure, not to mention delicious tomatoes and beans. And it’s wonderful exercise, too.

Gardening stretches and strengthens you. It helps you cultivate a calm, clear mind while putting all the major muscles of your body to work digging, lifting and carrying. Besides burning hundreds of calories an hour, gardening connects us to the earth, to nature, and it’s that mindful exchange of energy — you plant, nature grows — that is so joyful, so satisfying.

The Sport of Gardening? Dig Right In
Bagging leaves, hauling compost, hoeing and weeding — these are a few of the root activities involved in growing your own food and flowers. The problem is if you’re not used to all that activity and if you do it in a careless way, you can strain your back, wreck your wrists and hurt your shoulders. So allow me to plant some seeds of wisdom, some injury prevention tips to make your gardening easier, safer and more pleasurable:

WARM UP! To avoid injuries and morning-after aches and pains, take time 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 gently through their range of motion. Get the juices flowing. Shake out and stretch your wrists and hands. This warm-up 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. Buy a kneeling pad or make one out of old foam or a pillow. And don’t stay in the kneeling position too long. Take breaks. Flex and bend your knees from time to time to keep them happy.

PROTECT YOUR BACK. The smart thing to do is keep your back strong and flexible throughout the year so when you get in the garden, you are good to go … and good to grow. Move mindfully in the garden, so you don’t twist, torque, jerk or strain your back. If you do feel back pain, don’t plow through it. Stop, relax, and if you can’t proceed without pain (by engaging buy doxycycline cheap other muscles), leave the task for another person or another day.

LEARN TO LIFT. Before you lift a heavy load, stop and think about the safe way to do it. Bend at the knees, not the waist. Keep your back straight, engage your abs and lift slowly, using your legs. When carrying heavy objects — a rock, a bag of leaves — keep your arms (and the object) close to your body, 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 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. Listen to it. Breathe deeply and exhale fully when you garden.

DRINK WATER AND AVOID TOO MUCH SUN. I personally don’t like the idea of smearing on a lot of chemical-laden sunscreen and then baking it into your skin, so choose the purest, most protective sunscreen you can find (the one with the least chemicals). Wear a hat or visor to protect your face and a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes. And make sure you and your plants enjoy plenty of water.

USE YOUR ENERGY. Garden tasks can burn anywhere from 200 to 600 calories an hour depending on your size and effort. The more energy you put into it, the more calories you burn. So go for manual clippers, mowers and trimmers instead of the electric kind. Look for ones that are ergonomically correct, designed to lessen the strain on your body. Work at a steady, mindful pace.

If you don’t have land for a solo garden, you can reap the benefits by joining a community garden and plotting with others who know the value and goodness of growing and eating fresh, real, food. Go green!{jcomments on}


“Why try to explain miracles to kids when you can just have them plant a garden?” — Robert Brault

Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, .

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