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Gardening: How to Save Your Muscles

Gardening and keeping your lawn in shipshape is no easy task.

Planting, watering, pruning, mowing, and lifting or carrying are just a few tasks you may find necessary this season.

I hear some of my patients starting to grumble about scratching their gardens altogether because it’s hard work.

Not so fast!

With a couple of modifications, you can have a healthy body and a garden to be proud of.

Here are a few things we’ll cover:

  • Gardening is exercise. How much should you do and for how long?
  • How to modify your workspace to prevent injury.

Gardening = Exercise

You wouldn’t go to the gym and spend three hours doing the same exercise, right? So why do we spend hours repeating the same motions while gardening and expect to feel well?

Each one of our tissues has a threshold for use. This means that you can use a muscle or joint a number of times before it needs to recuperate.

If you or I use a group of muscles or joints beyond the point at which they need to rest, we significantly increase our risk of injury.

Our tissues need nutrients and oxygen to recover and these are supplied via blood flow. If the demands of gardening surpass the rate that these tissues receive blood, they fatigue quickly and present a risk.

You wouldn’t intentionally leave for a long drive without fuel in your gas tank. Give your muscles, tendons, and cartilage time to recover between tasks.

You may have three goals in your garden: trim hedges, pull weeds, and harvest your favorite veggies.

Instead of spending an hour straight on each task, spend 15-20 minutes on one, then move onto another – even if you’re not done.

The rationale behind this process is in allowing those previously-used muscles and joints to recover while you’re doing something entirely different.

Although this may seem like common thought, I find that most of us (myself included) like to put our head down and complete the task. This can be a harmful way of thinking when our bodies may not be as ready for long durations or repetitive movements, the way our mind is.

Modifying Your Work Space

How many times do you set up to work on something, then find yourself reaching halfway across the garden to pull that pesky weed?

Keep your work space close.

If you’re working more than several feet from your base (where your feet are planted), your risk of “pulling” a muscle or overextending yourself vastly increases.

Work in circles.

Set up your work space and draw an imaginary circle around your center. Spend time in this “work circle” to keep your body mechanics safe and efficient.

If you absolutely must work outside your work circle, opt for a long-handled tool so you have leverage from a distance.

Shovels, hoes, and garden rakes are inexpensive and can be used to reduce your bodies workload. Work smarter, not harder!

In summary, follow these simple methods to work more efficiently in your garden:

  • Don’t work beyond when you feel muscle or joint soreness
  • Break up your tasks and try to work for 15-20 minutes each
  • Stick to your “work circle”
  • Use long-handled tools for those tough-to-reach areas