Spring gardening is an invitation to disaster. Everything from blisters to torn ligaments is a realistic possibility. The extremes of winter weather tend to keep even the most dedicated people indoors and less active for a span long enough to lose muscle strength and overall stamina. You are probably aware that you need to be careful, but have you thought specifically about what to do to avoid trouble? Here are some things I have been thinking about to keep me gardening instead of recovering:
1. Start now, in the late winter, being conscious about moving more during the day. Just regular exercise may not be enough. Now is a good time to do some more thorough cleaning in the house or garage to begin to get your body used to a higher level of activity.
2. Don’t increase overall activity levels dramatically. If you get too tired, it increases your risk of injury due to bad body mechanics and/or the stress of repeated use. It can also be discouraging because it is harder to get back to activity went it was so exhausting last time.
3. Try to get outside a little before spring, as weather allows, to work on clean up and organizational chores. This will help you feel less frantic later, as well as stimulate your circulation.
4. Examine your glove supply. The right gloves for the jobs can make a big difference for blisters, but also with being able to hold tools or equipment in ways that are safer. Heavier leather gloves for shoveling and wheelbarrow work. Softer gloves for planting seedlings. Make sure no seams are going to rub you raw.
5. Plan for sun exposure. If you are not inclined to pre-tan, or are suspicious of the chemicals in sunscreen, then consider keeping track of amount of time in the sun, type of clothing worn each day, and which parts of the skin have been exposed for how long. It can be easy to forget that promise about wearing a broad brimmed hat all summer. You can sometimes plan your work to follow the shade travel through the yard, depending on your landscape.
6. When it IS time to really get out in the dirt, set limits ahead of time. Only stay outside for a predetermined time period. Even give your children or spouse permission to harass you when you attempt to work over the set limit. Increase this allowed time moderately and incrementally, even if the weather interferes.
7. Remember that there is very little to be gained by treating gardening like a race. Much like the car that passes everyone to get to the red light just before you, it means taking unnecessary chances for dubious gain. Plus, gardening involves such a variety of movements and changes of direction that the faster you move, the more likely you are to twist a joint in a way it was not designed for.
8. Give some thought to the natural mechanics of your body. Certain joints are only meant to move in certain directions. They are also not as strong at certain angles, even if you have been weight lifting. Slow down for any change of direction, don’t begin a new motion at full speed, and be careful on slopes or uneven ground.
9. Don’t engage in one particular gardening activity for very long. It may feel okay to prune fruit trees for 2 hours, but there is a good chance your muscles will be screaming at you the next day. This pain can be greatly lessened if you split up the activities into smaller time segments. (Review #2)
10. Even well into the gardening season, it is normal for the changing gardening cycle to mean new muscle groups are being used. Don’t assume that just because you have been successfully active that you don’t have to be careful.
11. Make sure your tools are in good working order. Flat wheelbarrow tires or dull pruning blades are not only hard to use, but they tempt you to use greater and injurious force to get your work done.
12. Remember that increased levels of activity often mean increased need for sleep. This enables your body to appropriately recover and benefit from the gardening exercise. A tired body is more prone to injury and a tired brain is less likely to be careful.
13. Insects have preferred times of day and locations. Try to get the weeding done in the flower garden in the early morning, before the bees come out. Early morning or later evening work might also make it easier to wear long sleeves both to avoid sun exposure and decrease bug bites.
14. Get help for the heaviest, hardest jobs. Being independent or saving money is not worth the risk of back injury or hernia.
15. When you start to feel fatigued, are having head rushes, or have muscles cramping up, take a break! Get a drink. Find a restful indoor chore for a while. This is not prison camp.
A little caution doesn’t need to dampen your gardening spirits. On the contrary, it should help to keep you happier and healthier for the whole gardening season. What can you add to my list?