In the Garden:
Upper South
March, 2007
Regional Report

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Warming up and doing stretching exercises before beginning a gardening session will help alleviate aches and pains later.

Stretch, One, Two, Three...

Interestingly enough, while I've recently read in several garden trade magazines that gardening is on the decline because people don't want to work, simultaneously, several current consumer magazines have been heralding the physical and emotional benefits of gardening. The bottom line, which any serious gardener knows, is that gardening certainly involves exercise, i.e. work, but that it also has rewards in physical fitness, plus it brings a great deal of personal satisfaction.

Scientists are touting gardening as a great means of exercise because it can burn between 250 to 350 calories per hour, compared with brisk walking at 230 and jogging at 430. Gardening also increases metabolic rate three fold to fivefold and helps maintain flexibility, balance, bone health, muscle tone, range of motion, endurance, and strength. Plus, it's a lot more fun than trudging away on a treadmill. The obvious therapeutic benefits of gardening include stress and tension reduction, relaxation, mood improvement, better sleep, and mental stimulation.

However, no matter how much you love getting out into the fresh air, burning off calories, and creating a beautiful personal environment, there are still going to be times when there are also aches and pains. As gardening season approaches, now is the time to think about ways to keep sore backs and muscles to a minimum.

If we lived in a perfect world, each of us would already be walking for 30 minutes each day plus doing yoga and/or Pilates on a regular basis to improve flexibility and core muscle strength. Short of that, before starting garden work, take time for a warm-up and stretch session. For example, walk briskly around the garden or march in place until you feel warm. Then, take several minutes for some stretching exercises:

Trunk Rotation - Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold a broom behind you at shoulder or waist level, slowly turn your shoulders to the right. Hold this position between 2 to 5 seconds before turning to the left. Rotate only within a comfortable range.

Back and Shoulder Stretch - Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, facing a tree, railing, or tall fence post. Grasp the object with both hands. Round-out your upper back and shoulders and lean away from the tree or post. Feel the stretch in your upper back and shoulder muscles. Hold for at least 30 seconds.

Chest and Shoulder Stretch - Stand next to a wall or large tree. With one elbow bent, place your forearm flat against the wall or tree. Turn your entire body away from your arm until you feel a slight stretch in your chest and front portion of your shoulder. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other arm.

Calf Stretch - Place both hands on a wall in front of you. Step back with one leg, lean into the wall, and take a lunge position. Keep the heel of your back foot flat on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg.

Hamstring - Place one foot on a step in front of you, with toes facing upward. With your hands on your opposite leg for balance, lean forward slightly until you feel resistance in the back of your thigh. Keep your back straight, and don't round your shoulders. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other leg.

Hips - Hold onto a tall shovel or dowel at your side for balance and cross one leg in front of the other. Sit down into the other leg. You should feel a stretch through the back of your hip. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg.

Quads - Lightly lean onto a wall, post, or large tree for balance and stand on one leg. With your hand behind your back, grab the ankle of your free leg. Press your leg gently into your buttock. You should feel a stretch on the front part of your thigh. Keep your knees together and your hips level. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg.*

Finally, a few other tips to get the gardening season off to a good start: Remember to wear gloves, hat, and sunglasses, have a filled water bottle, knee pads or cushion, sunscreen, insect repellent, and the sense enough to know when to stop, take a break, and sit a spell -- in the shade!

*The stretch routine is adapted from Gardening Trends, http://www.gardening-trends.com/gardening/gardeners_exercises.html







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