Gardening is good for you. We all know it, but now science has proven it too.
As the weather warms up, days lengthen and day light saving means more time and motivation to be outdoors it seems a good time to highlight all the benefits of gardening as well as looking at some tips to help you if you find yourself a bit stiff after a day in the garden.
Therapeutic horticulture is a fancy way to talk about the many health benefits of gardening. Studies have recently found that school students involved in gardening are more likely to score higher in science subjects, have better interpersonal skills and better class room behaviour. Gardening has also shown to increase quality of life for people with chronic mental illness including anxiety and depression, and has been shown to give their lives meaning.
It seems that the positive effects of gardening can be applied at any age because studies of older people has found that it is a powerful health promoting activity and is effective in lowering stress levels in people who have had a heart attack.
All of that is great, but what if it is difficult to garden, or you pull up with some back pain after a day enjoying all of those health benefits.
Try a short warm up before you begin gardening. Doing exercises like the pelvic tilt and a gentle lying twist with bent knees (if your back can handle it) will warm up those hips and ready them for a back-safe weeding session.
If you have knee, hip or back pain, sitting will help you avoid putting pressure onto those areas.
In the wide-legged sit, you can support yourself as you begin to reach for the weeds. Just use your elbow on the inside of your knee to create an external brace for your body posture.
If you prefer to stand, step your feet wide and try to keep your back long as you bend from the hips.
You can then use your elbow on the inside of your knee to help support your weight.
Wheel barrow work
That old adage, "bend from the hips and knees, not the back" comes in especially handy here. This is because when you straighten up, you will have the strong leverage power from the leg muscles that can save your back muscles from strain and injury. Once you are straight, keep a long spine and lean your body weight in toward the wheelbarrow to tilt it and empty out the contents.
Do not overload the wheelbarrow. Overloading makes pushing harder, can cause you to strain your hips, and to lose your balance.
• Position your feet so that one foot is in front of the other and place your front foot on the shovel blade whilst anchoring your back leg into the ground to give you stability.
• Lean your weight forward onto the shovel and let the weight of your body sink the shovel into the ground.
• To begin lifting the dirt up, shift your weight on to your back leg. Make sure you bend at the hips and knees, and not the back to help avoid extra work for your back.
• Lever the shovel out of the ground by bending the knees to lower your body down more. By lowering your body down when you lift the shovel up, you can use the powerful leg and hip muscles to do most of the work.
• Move your whole body to where you want the dirt to go, and then just turn the shovel handle to let it fall there. As usual, any bending should be at the hips and knees to help you avoid using the vulnerable areas of your back to do the heavy work.
Use equipment such as raised garden beds, wheelbarrows and garden carts to help reduce the amount of bending you have to do.
Make sure all your equipment is in good working order to prevent overstraining.
Make sure all your cutting equipment is sharp and well maintained before doing any pruning.
Use kneelers or pads to help prevent knee pain.
And finally don’t tackle too much at once - enjoy your time in the garden and gain all the benefits that it has to offer.