Believe it or not, Statistics Canada have listed gardening as one of Canada’s most popular forms of leisurely exercise.
An added bonus is that working in the gardening contributes to completing Canada’s physical activity guidelines which suggest a total of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity accumulated throughout a week.
Gardening and yard work seem like low impact and low risk activities for our bodies; yet, for some of us the next morning after a hard day in the garden or a long day of yard work will be accompanied by some unwelcome aches and pains.
Here are some tips to avoid injury from gardening and yard work.
- The garden does not need to be completed the first day you are in it. Ease yourself into the activity. Start by gardening for 20- 30 minutes, multiple days of the week instead of trying to tackle it all in 8 hours one Saturday.
- Limit the amount of bending you do. If you are going to do a lot of work close to the ground kneel down. To increase comfort levels invest in a foam pad to put under your knees, your knees will feel less achy after you have been on them for prolonged periods of time.
- Stretch before you begin gardening if you are raking, shovelling or performing activities that require you to bend or twist. This will warm you up to help prevent you from pulling or straining a muscle and waking up the next day with a sore back.
- Switch up your activities often. For example, if you have only one or two days to get your work done do 15 minutes of pruning, 15 minutes of ground work using the trowel and 15 minutes of weeding. This will limit the amount of repetitive activity you perform and spreads the work load over different muscle groups to avoid extra soreness and discomfort the next day.
- Use proper technique when you are lifting. Bend with your knees, not your back. In addition, try to keep the object you are lifting and transporting as close to your body as you can. If the object is too heavy ask for help. It is not worth straining your back. You’ll be kicking yourself when you have to put off completing the garden for another couple of days.
It’s easy to get carried away with activities and over do it while you are in the moment. It is more difficult to deal with the aches and pains that come on the next day that made you wish you had done less.
If this column has reached you too late and you are passed the taking it slow phase and are wondering what to do next here are some tips.
If you are quite sore following a hard day of gardening perform some gentle stretches and stay active. An easy activity that keeps you moving is a simple as going for a 30 minute walk. This will help you bounce back to your regular you faster than if you take the passive road and limit your activity due to pain.
Why do we get sore if we have done too much activity? Our bodies follow a principle called delay onset muscle soreness (DOMS). In general, we are sore the day after, but it is not until the second, even third day that the soreness really sets in to remind us that we should have taken it easier.
DOMS is usually accompanied by pain with movement and stiffness in muscles but no pain at rest. This may partially explain why it would seem better to rest the days following a hard working day in the garden.
Ultimately, it will be the most difficult to get moving and stay active in those three days but using your muscles and pumping nutrient rich blood through them will help them heal faster.
So remember, take your time, use proper lifting techniques, and change your activities often. The garden isn’t going anywhere, it is still early in spring and there is plenty of time to achieve perfection.