Despite the lingering of winter’s cold, all around are signs of spring! The days grown longer and color returns all around us — first in the crocuses and daffodils followed by the beauty of tulips, azaleas, forsythia and green lawns. This is a great time to turn our thoughts to the many perks of being a regular gardener, though this work can be hard and stress our bodies — particularly our spines.
Here are tricks and tips for making gardening a safe and beneficial activity.
Benefits of Gardening
Gardening has many benefits, including:
Let’s explore each of these.
Get Your Hands Dirty!
Despite what you may have been told growing up, there really are benefits to exposing yourself to dirt while you engage in various gardening activities. All dirt contains harmless bacteria that help boost our immune systems, making our natural defenses stronger. Time to dig in!
Building Stronger Bones and Smiling
Osteoporosis is a serious problem for all of us as we age. While there have been significant advances in medical treatments for this, doctors agree that prevention is the best approach. Gardening activities provide two critical components to osteoporosis intervention:
— The specific type of exercise achieved — called weight bearing — occurs frequently during gardening. Of course the exercise alone is beneficial (weight gain is all too common with advancing age), but the extra bone strengthening is a real bonus.
— In addition, exposure to sunlight promotes vitamin D production, another really important aspect of keeping our skeleton healthy. As with exercise, with proper care, sunlight has many benefits as it helps to boost our nature “happy” signals known as endorphins.
Keeping Your Mind Sharp
Did you know that several studies have demonstrated that regular gardening can significantly reduce the chance of dementia, and it’s also helpful in preventing progression of dementia. While all physical and intellectual activities have this potential, gardening seems to have special benefits and is also one that many can sustain while other types of activities become too challenging.
Find Your Peace of Mind
Many aspects of your mental health benefit from getting out into the flower and vegetable beds. These can improve your mood and make you feel more positive. Many feel it provides mindfulness which also helps lift the spirit. The results of all the work — whether beautiful flowers, fresh herbs/vegetables or a beautiful view out your window — provide an unbelievable sense of satisfaction and joy.
If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that people want to be able to socialize — to see other people face to face. For many of the population, isolation becomes an increasing challenge as mobility declines. Gardening can help combat that scourge. Whether the chance encounter with neighbors if gardening at home or the connection with others working in a communal garden, chances are, time outside will lead to socialization, which has enormous benefits.
Protect Your Body While Gardening
For many, gardening puts a terrible strain on the body, especially those with existing spine pain. Some even fear they will do more harm than good. To get ready to reap all the rewards, here are a few important tips and reminders:
— Exercise is exercise. Gardening is no exception. So make sure you warm up before starting. A little pre-digging stretch is recommended. Always use good technique with stressing your muscles, stay hydrated and then take a really good stretch when you are done. Stretching your spine is most effective when the muscles are all “juiced up” from being active. Give your spine a treat and engage in a long, deep stretch every time you garden.
— Equipment is key. Your body will be safer if your equipment is optimized and functioning well. Good gloves are essential, but the handles of your tools also need to work for your hands. The sharpness of your tools will also reduce the stress of digging, pruning and harvesting. Invest in the range of tools that can help get the job done.
— Limit your bending. Prolonged periods bending over or twisting your spine may lead to pain so adjust how you work. Use a kneeling bench or sit whenever you can. Terraced or raised gardens allow you to work at a natural level with less body contortions. If you must bend, limit the time in that position, standing up straight and stretching often or mixing up the type of work you are doing. Again tools can help as stores are filled with devices that help extend your body in effective ways.
— Care when lifting.Be sure the weight is reasonable before you even attempt! Use lightweight wheelbarrows and similar devices as key aides. Use proper technique — lift with your legs (not your back!) and keep the load close to your body.
— Stage your work. It’s all too easy once you get started to carry on too long. The peace and joy of the work can cloud your judgment. Set reasonable goals, and plan many sessions. There is real value to spending time in your garden many days, even if for relatively short times.
No matter where you live, your age or what kind of work you do, incorporating some gardening into your life has enormous benefits as long as you take care to protect your body from potential harm.
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