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How Do​es Your Garden Grow? Painlessly?

May 24, 2007
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If you have ever pulled and strained to remove a pesky vine -- or twisted and stretched while kneeling in a flower bed -- then you know that gardeners get their share of physical exercise.

Spring is the time when people take to the outdoors to plant their gardens in anticipation of a summer of lovely flowers and healthy vegetables. But while this popular outdoor leisure activity has stress-relieving benefits that go along with communing with nature, it can be difficult for people who are not in the best physical shape.

Gardening requires a lot of bending, stretching, lifting and moving in ways that we don't do every day. It is important to think about good body mechanics and physical conditioning before you start getting that garden in shape. Most people tend to overdo it because they think it's fun and don't think of it as physical activity. And they want to get the garden in shape in one day!

But as good as gardening can be in many ways, those who are out of shape may experience strain on muscles they didn't know they even had.

Paula Kramer, Ph.D., chairperson of occupational therapy at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, offers the following tips:

· Stretch before you start to work in the garden. Even better, stretch for a few days before you start working in the garden.

· Use a fat, rubberized or padded handled trowel made from one piece of metal from top to bottom. This allows for a good grip under damp conditions, less possibility of breakage in the tool, and less stress and strain on the arms and joints.

· Tools such as shears or clippers with a spring-action, self-opening feature are helpful but they should be well-oiled so that they open and close easily, and you don't strain the muscle and joints.

· Sit while working or take sitting breaks to conserve energy and decrease stress on your back, knees and hips. You can even dig a hole while sitting on a stool and using a shorter-handled shovel.

· When lifting potted plants or bags of mulch and dirt, bend knees and lift straight up, keeping your back as straight as possible. Concentrate on using the leg muscles. 

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