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Thursday, May 25, 2006 03:49 am

Don’t make gardening a pain

Tips for avoiding aches and pains in the back yard

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As the gardening season gets into full swing, we can be assured of a few things: Flowers will bloom, weeds will grow, and our bodies will ache. However inevitable some aches may be, though, others may be prevented. Gardening can be viewed as a workout activity, and it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program. While you’re there, discuss medications, some of which can cause hypersensitivity to the sun. Here are a few tips for gardeners to help avoid undue stress on the body: Be sure to warm up and stretch the muscles for 15 minutes before beginning a gardening chore — you will find that you can garden longer and better if you do. Follow stretching with nonstrenuous activity, working your way up to more strenuous tasks. Once you’re done for the day, do a little more stretching. When your muscles feel sore or tired, stop working and take a break. Vary your activity every 15 minutes — move to a different location or start a different activity. Set a timer for 15 minutes; when the timer goes off, stop, rest, and drink some water before moving on. When raking, hoeing, or weeding, keep your back straight and your feet shoulder-width apart. Avoid reaching with a garden tool; keep it close to your body. If you reach a point where your back is no longer straight, move to stand closer to the work area. Turn your feet and entire body rather than twisting or turning your back. Lift objects by bending at the knees, not at the waist. Make your tools work for you. Clean, sharp tools in proper working order are easier to use. Don’t try to weed all of your gardens in one day. Break chores into one-hour sections and do a little each day. Be sure to drink plenty of water, which keeps the skin moist and helps prevent heatstroke and sunstroke.

Although the sun is necessary for plant growth, overexposure to our bodies from the sun can result in sunburn, heat exhaustion, or even heatstroke. Here are a few tips to reduce sun exposure: Protect your head with a hat. A hat should have a wide brim that will cover the forehead, ears and neck. Protect your eyes with wrap-around sunglasses; switch to the appropriate protective eyewear when operating power equipment or carrying out a task that could put your eyes in harm’s way. Harmful ultraviolet rays can damage the skin, which may lead to skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor, or SPF, of at least 15. Apply your sunscreen 30 minutes liberally before going outside, and remember to reapply it every 2 hours. Wear sunscreen even when the sky is overcast. Do your gardening during cooler parts of the day — early morning or late evening. Give some thought to your protective gear: Wear gloves to protect your hands from blisters, and invest in a pair of properly fitted heavy-duty shoes or boots to get good traction when lifting or digging and to protect your toes. It’s a good idea to wear earplugs or earmuffs when using noisy power tools such as leaf-blowers, lawnmowers, and chainsaws. Many gardening chores involve kneeling. A foam kneeler pad, at least an inch thick, provides some protection; a kneeling bench is another good alternative. Also, check out the heavy-duty gel kneepads, available at home-improvement stores.
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