Well, it is that time again, many of us have spent the winter hibernating, and now with Quarantine…we need to stretch our legs!!!! The sun is out, we are trying to stay home, and we are working in the garden. As my friends will note, I am a bit of a veggie farmer. I took out my front yard and converted it to raised beds (since that is the part of my yard with the most sunshine!). I find that gardening is my favorite type of exercise, not only can I get an aerobic workout, but I also appreciate that when I am in nature and creating something beautiful, my mind relaxes and I forget the stresses and concerns of the day.
My challenge, as I get closer to 50, is that my mind is willing and my body, well it isn’t quite as willing. Primarily, my joints and back become sore and slow me down. This may be a concern for you as well. So, I have put together five of my favorite tips that I use to protect my back in the garden…..
1. Repetition is not your friend, and yet is often required for gardening. Here’s the key…DO NOT DO THE SAME THING, OVER AND OVER, IN THE SAME WAY. If you are raking, make sure you switch directions or switch hands. If you are kneeling to weed, stand up and do some cutting, then go back to weeding. Do not dig for an hour, stop and walk around. My point is to become aware of the amount of time you spend doing repetitive tasks and switching up your activities, to decrease the stress on single muscle groups. The key is setting a timer!
2. If you are bent over forward, stand up and bend backward! Not only will you protect your back, but you will check out the location of the sun! So, stand up, make sure your feet are balanced, or hold on to a fence, and look up to the sky and slowly bend backwards 10 times. This is a great way to realign your spine!
3. Take Frequent Breaks. Make sure you put a timer on your phone, stop to walk around, drink water!!!!!!! Sit down and look at your accomplishments, think about your next steps…plan.
4. Use your legs: When you bend down to pick something up use the big muscles in your buttocks and legs versus the multitude of tiny muscles in your back! Your gluteus maximus is made for lifting, your multifidi muscles along your spine are not!
5. If you need help get help, get help. I am very lucky because I have 16 year old twins and they do all my heavy lifting. If you haven’t someone to help you, then use your brain to work out the safest way for you to move heavy objects. Rather than lifting a 40 pound bag of soil, open it where it is and use a bucket to move only the amounts you can safely carry yourself. Maybe this means you have to take many trips, but imagine how much good you are doing for your heart and lungs with this exercise.
I hope all you are staying safe and healthy. Your gardens are a great place to increase your exercise, improving your strength, increasing your stamina, keeping your heart healthy, keeping your respiratory system at it’s potential best. Taking care to accomplish the tasks of gardening in ways that protect your back will allow you to garden all summer and reap the rewards of your hard work. And lastly, always protect your skin…wear a hat.
Cheers, Dr. JJ