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Keeping Your Body Happy While Gardening

March 16, 20244 min read

You might not think of gardening as exercise, but it definitely is!  It’s considered a moderately intense exercise, especially when you’re doing more than planting seeds.  To help keep your body happy while you’re planting, trimming, or harvesting, follow these simple tips.

Because gardening usually includes doing all sorts of different movements, be sure to wear clothes that you can move easily in.  If you need to be mindful of the sun, there are tons of clothing options out there with SPF built in.  Hats are helpful as well, and many even come with neck flaps to keep you more shaded.  Also, pay attention to your footwear and opt for the closed-toe options when you can, especially if you’ll be climbing a ladder, using a wheelbarrow, traipsing through bushes, or digging with a shovel.

Before you even begin, plan out what you’re going to be doing (digging, pulling weeds, planting seeds, pruning, harvesting, etc.), and then gather all of the tools you’ll need so that they’re nearby.  Don’t think you’ll need that long-handled pruner?  Grab it just in case so that you’re not tempted to use a tool that’s too weak or small for the job, which can cause you to tweak your wrist.

Remember that gardening is a physical activity, so stretching before you launch into the project is really helpful.  Also, start with the smaller, easier jobs instead of diving straight into the bigger project.

When you’re working close to the ground, kneel on a garden pad.  You can put both knees on the pad or just one, having the other knee bent and its foot on the ground with your elbow on that thigh.  Be sure to keep your spine straight and your core active.  I’ve found that garden pads have changed my whole weeding and planting experience and keep my knees so much happier.

Kneeling is usually better than sitting and bending over to get to your work area.  When you sit on something and are leaning over, it can cause you to bend down to reach the ground, putting your spine at risk for crankiness.  Try to keep your work area as close to you as possible and then move to the next area once you’ve finished instead of reaching too far away from you.

Don’t forget to let your upper body help out!  Use your arms to reach without hunching over (just make sure you don’t over-extend your arms).  It’s super important to not bend from the waist.  Keep your spine erect as much as possible.  Also, use longer tools rather than straining to reach an area.

Raised garden beds can help your body stay happier, but you can still strain your back if you reach over the bed too far.  Give yourself complete bed access when planning out your planters.

As much as possible, keep your ears stacked directly over your shoulders and avoid letting your head hang or your chin jut forward.  When your head is hanging down or shifting forward, you put too much pressure on your spine.  This principle applies to everyday activities as well.   Use your eyes to look down rather than lowering your head.  Also, keep your head facing forward rather than turning your head to the left or right.  This will keep your neck muscles happier.

Our hands and wrists can definitely be impacted when gardening.  To help your upper body, keep your wrists straight when using garden tools and choose ergonomic tools whenever possible.

When it comes to lifting something heavy, use your legs and glutes and engage your core as you stand up, keeping your knees bent and your back straight.  Position heavy pots close to your body, and ask for help instead of trying to be a hero on your own.  Wheelbarrows are also super helpful, so take advantage of them.  Just be sure to continue to use your legs and core when using one.

To avoid repetitive stress injuries, alternate your tasks.  This applies to just about anything, not just gardening.  If you’re going to dig in the dirt, do it for 15 or 20 minutes max, and then do something entirely different.  This could include going from kneeling down to standing up, pruning trees to weeding, that kind of thing.  Opposite actions are great to help mix it up, as is adding in a short stretching sesh in between tasks.  Take breaks as needed and remember to drink plenty of water, especially if you’re out in the sun.

When you apply these principles of body mechanics to your gardening projects, the whole experience – during and after – will be even more rewarding.

A woman with dark skin and short dark hair is working in her upright herb garden.

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