Spring is nearly here, and for many it’s a chance to get out and be active for the first time in months. Whether you love it or just want to get it out of the way, gardening and other related yard work is one of the first times people get up and moving with the change of seasons. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, it is important that people participating in gardening and yard work take a health conscious approach to both prevent injuries and reap the health rewards of working in the great outdoors.
Treat it like a workout
Gardening and yard work can be strenuous and it’s very easy to do too much, especially for mature adults and those who’ve been inactive for long periods of time. To best prevent injuries, people should view gardening and yard work as a workout. Just stop for a moment and think about what you are doing. Digging, weeding, raking, mulching and planting are all activities that use many of the most commonly injured muscles and joints including the lower back, neck, shoulders and knees.
Tips to minimize risks of injury
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▪ Warm up before you begin. Take a short walk, and move your shoulders, neck and trunk to loosen up.
▪ Don’t overdo it. Listen to your body and always pay attention to how you are feeling. If something starts to ache, stop and try stretching it out, or better yet, switch to a different task. When in doubt, stop the activity and take a break.
▪ Start small and build. Complete small projects first and work up to the big stuff.
▪ Use proper technique. To avoid common back injuries, bend at the knees and lift with your legs to move heavy objects or pull weeds. Kneel on one knee at a time and keep one foot on the ground when possible for stability.
▪ Use the right tools. Use wheelbarrows and carts to move around large heavy objects. Use pads for your knees if you have to kneel.
▪ Mix it up. Avoid long periods of the same activity or take frequent breaks to avoid cramping, stiffness and overuse.
▪ Stay hydrated. Get plenty of fluids (preferably water).
▪ Cool down and stretch out. End your gardening session with a short walk and/or some light stretching.
Take a smart approach and get out there and get to work. The exercise is great for your body and it’s very rewarding to step back and look at your accomplishments. Just remember to take a reasonable pace, drink plenty of water and take breaks when needed.
Craig Turner serves as general manager of Mount Nittany Health Fit for Play.