My first garden was a failure.
When I was a teenager, I planted a small vegetable garden in my family’s back yard. It was in a nice area by the porch with just the right amount of sun in the southern exposure.
I planted radishes, lettuce, carrots, and a few other plants. But the radishes grew too big and turned inedible. The carrots never grew full size. And the lettuce attracted every garden pest imaginable.
I didn’t let that stop me from gardening…
Years later at my Augusta, Georgia home while a resident in med school, I planted hundreds of bulbs – tulips, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths…
But something had changed. I wasn’t a teen anymore… Strained muscles and an aching back made me miserable for the next few days.
After that, I started looking for ways to reduce the wear-and-tear on my joints and back whenever I indulged in gardening. For example, I got a long-handled bulb planter so I could plant while standing.
And eventually I came up with an easier method… I simply overturn a whole bed of dirt, push the bulbs in with my foot, and cover them. Simple and beautiful.
Take a look at the blooms we have in Buffalo right now…
And anyone who has spent time in a garden can relate to my aching back. Although it’s great exercise, gardening is also a good way to overexert your body and invite injury.
That’s why earlier this month, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) issued a press release about the importance of taking care of your joints while working in your garden. Since this is a topic near to my heart, I wanted to share a few tips with you for making the most of your time out in the dirt…
1. Make sure to stretch your muscles before gardening. This might seem unnecessary, but gardening is a workout. In fact, I’ve recommended it before as a great way to get exercise during the week in addition to daily walks.
That includes rolling your shoulders back and moving your head side to side to help stretch out your neck and shoulder muscles. You can also do some lower back stretches by lying on the floor and bringing each knee up to your chest, or by sitting in a chair and gently twisting to each side. Check out some of the exercises recommended by Healthline and Eldergym.
2. Lift with your legs, not your back. If you need to lift anything, keep your feet shoulder width apart, bend at your knees, and lift with your legs. And ask for help if you need it – better to be safe than to slip a disc.
3. Wear thick gloves, shoes and socks, and a wide-brimmed hat. The hat will help keep your face and neck from burning. The gloves and footwear protect against thorns and insect bites.
4. Use a stool or a kneeling pad. Gardening stools can help your back and knees. Similarly, if you still want to be on your hands and knees, use a soft pillow or a special gardening pad to protect your joints.
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5. Change up your chores. Don’t do one full task for too long… You’ll overexert those muscles involved, and this will lead to pain.
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6. Take breaks. It’s easy to lose yourself in your work, but taking breaks is crucial to staying healthy. Take a five-minute break every hour. Find some shade and focus on your breathing. Use the time to drink plenty of fluids as well.
7. Get the right tools. Plenty of gardening tools make the work easier for stiff joints and arthritic hands. The Arthritis Foundation recommends several tools for weeding, pruning, planting and more. Find their list here.
Some folks might also use upright “vertical garden” planters to avoid bending over. If you want to try this kind of gardening, be sure to secure your planters and stay safe on ladders.
If you aren’t a gardener yet, consider planting just a few small flowers to get started…
The benefits of gardening are a great boost to your health. The light to moderate exercise keeps you fit, the exposure to the sun helps with vitamin D production, and the floral smells boost serotonin production.
Gardening is also a great way to practice a form of meditation. It’s perfect for folks who might need to relax and refocus but still need to keep their hands busy.
Longtime readers know I like to garden at my house in Augusta. I recommend planting perennials because they come back year after year – no need to keep planting new flowers every year. Try flowers like daffodils, lilies, tulips, irises, and amaryllises. Once they get going, they multiply and spread, too. I’ve planted hundreds of bulbs and love the increasing dividends I see from my flowers each year.
Enjoy time in your garden this spring, but don’t neglect your joints and lower back. Taking these precautions today will allow you to enjoy your favorite hobby with less pain.
What We’re Reading…
- Read the full write-up from the AAOS.
- Easy exercises before gardening from BottomLine.
- Something different: The hidden cost of TV dinners.
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
May 23, 2017