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Get in the Garden to Relieve Stress and Stay Active

Ah, spring, and the smell of new mown grass (no allergy sufferers, please). People want to go outside and start digging, preparing the soil for their gardens.

Not only is gardening good for the body, but it is also good for the soul. This idea is borne out by a CNN article on why gardening is good for health.

Looking at a study in the Netherlands, reporter Anne Harding said gardening proved to be a good stress reducer.

“After completing a stressful task, two groups of people were instructed to either read indoors or garden for 30 minutes. Afterward, the group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the reading group, and they also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” Harding said in her article.

“We live in a society where we’re just maxing ourselves out all the time in terms of paying attention,” says Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., a horticulture instructor and researcher in the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

However, before picking up the spade, the package of seeds and heading out the door, it might be a good idea to review some tips about protecting your back, your knees or other body parts that might sustain strains or injuries if you are not used to the various ways people who garden stand, stoop, sit or kneel when they begin this year’s gardening.

Courtney Hollenkamp, a physical therapist at St. Joseph Hospital in Breese, said injuries from gardening or yard work are some of the most common reasons people come for therapy. She offered some suggestions about how to garden without sustaining injuries.

“While it can be relaxing and therapeutic for the mind, it can also be stressful on the body.  Gardening typically requires frequent bending and heavy lifting, and if done improperly can result in injury.”

Safe Gardening Tips
1) Yard work and gardening are types of exercise.  As with all exercise, warm up your muscles and joints with a five-10 minute walk and some stretching.

2) Change positions and tasks every 15-30 minutes.  Changing positions frequently helps prevent fatigue, overuse and injury. Take a break to stretch, walk, and get a drink of water.

3) Use Proper Body Mechanics: This is likely the number one reason people get hurt. It is critical to safe gardening.

• Avoid repetitive bending, especially at your lower back or neck.
• Limit reaching away from your body and keep objects close to you.
• Avoid bending and twisting.  Try to keep your back straight when lifting an object.  Bend your knees and lift with your legs.
• Switch hands frequently and avoid awkward positions when pulling weeds, pruning, cutting to avoid fatigue and overuse.
• Use adaptive equipment as needed to limit excessive bending or reaching (For example, long-handled tools, gardening bench/cart, knee pad for kneeling).  Keep your loads light and use a wheelbarrow if moving large amounts such as mulch.

4) Drink water continuously. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness and other more serious cardiac issues.

5)  Wear loose, comfortable clothing, a hat, and proper fitting shoes. Flip flops are not helpful when hauling flower trays, bags of mulch or heavy items.

6) Apply ice to any injuries immediately and seek treatment if they do not resolve in one-two days.

In addition to good exercise, gardening gives folks a chance to reflect, to remember all the blessings each person has and perhaps to offer a prayer of thanks for the opportunity to enjoy God’s creation and contribute, even in a small way to the beauty of the earth. Happy gardening.

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