The green gym – here’s how to look after your body while you garden
Now that the weather’s warming up, it’s tempting to get outside and throw yourself into some serious pruning and clearing. But after a day’s hard gardening, you can end up with backache and other pains. In fact spring is when physiotherapist Jacqueline Knox sees most gardening-related injuries. But this can be avoided, as she explains.
Step one is to build up slowly: ‘If you’ve done no gardening all winter, increase your capacity gradually,’ says Jacqueline co-author of ‘Garden Your Way to Health and Fitness’, published by Timber Press. Gardening is wonderful exercise, building strength and flexibility, but approach it as you would other exercise, explains Jacqueline. ‘Warm up by doing some squats or walking briskly round the garden in order to prepare your muscles for exercise.’
And vary your activities. ‘One of the most common faults of gardeners is not alternating activities,’ she says. ‘If you’re on your knees planting, get up after 20 minutes and do some pruning or leave the lawn half mown until later.’ This prevents the repetitive nature of gardening putting a strain on the body.
Posture also helps. ‘When you’re lifting, keep your back straight, lifting from a stable base, feet wide apart, bringing the object close towards you,’ explains Jacqueline. But the key, she says, is to engage the muscles in your whole body, ‘the thighs, bottom, back and tummy so they take the load not the ligaments.’ It also helps to be strong in the first place, she says. ‘As you get older you lose muscle mass so it’s good for gardeners to strengthen their muscles, particularly the core, with exercises such as pilates, the plank or press ups.’
And invest in the right, well sharped tools and a kneeler so that you can work on all fours and take the strain out of your back with too much bending.
So, if your garden is bursting into life, beckoning you out there, go easy – like your garden, your body needs easing out of winter of hibernation. Happy, healthy gardening!