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Thursday, April 21, 2011 01:11 am

For a good garden workout, pace yourself

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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, preventing some aches and pains is within our control.

Gardening could be viewed as a workout. Therefore, consult your doctor before starting an exercise program. Also discuss medications, some might cause hypersensitivity to the sun.

Here are a few tips to help avoid undue stress, aches and pains to your body:

Warm up and stretch the muscles for 15 minutes before beginning a garden chore. You will find that you can garden longer and better if you stretch. Follow stretching with non-strenuous activities and work your way up to more strenuous activities. Also stretch at the completion of garden activities.

When muscles feel sore or tired, stop and take a rest. Vary the gardening activity, switching to a different chore every 15 minutes. Switch to a different location, a different activity or just relax.

When raking, hoeing and weeding, keep the back straight and feet shoulder-width apart. Avoid reaching with a garden tool; keep it close to your body. If you reach the point where the back is no longer straight, move and 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.

Pace yourself and take regular breaks. This can be easily done by setting a timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop, rest and drink some water.

Don’t try to weed all your gardens in one day. Break chores into one-hour sections and do a little each day.

Be sure to drink plenty of water. Water keeps the skin moist and can prevent heat and sun strokes.

While the sun is necessary for plant growth, overexposure to our bodies from the sun can result in sunburns, heat strokes and heat exhaustion. 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 eyes with a wraparound pair of sunglasses.

Harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun can damage skin, which may lead to skin cancer. One way to protect your skin is to use sunscreen. American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen with at least a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside. Remember to apply it liberally and often (about every two hours). Wear sunscreen on both sunny and overcast days. For more information on sunscreens, visit the American Academy of Dermatology website, http://www.aad.org/public/Publications/pamphlets/Sunscreens.htm .

Work outside in the cooler parts of the day such as early morning or late evening.

Other gardening attire that should be given important consideration includes:

Proper fitting gloves protect the hands from blisters. There are several types of garden gloves each to meet a specific garden task. Cotton gloves are best used for planting, weeding and harvesting. Leather gloves provide protection when doing heavy-duty garden chores such as digging, pruning, heavy lifting and working with thorny plants. Neoprene or unlined plastic gloves are recommended for use with chemicals.

Shoes should fit properly, provide comfort and protect the toes and feet. Heavy duty shoes and boots provide the best traction when moving, lifting or digging.

Many gardening chores involve kneeling. Constant up and down movement puts stress on the knees. Foam kneeling pads, at least an inch thick, provide some protection. Kneeling benches are another good alternative. Also, check out the heavy duty gel knee pads. These are available at home improvement stores.

Jennifer Fishburn is horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, Sangamon-Menard Unit. Material for this article is from the BodySmart Gardening lesson, University of Illinois Extension.
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