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Illinois Country Living

David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois

Yard & Garden

Gardening Doesn’t Have to be a Pain
Warm up to the exercise gardening provides

Sometime in April, you’re going to decide that you finally have to get out there in the garden, unless you just totally abandon it for the year.

Warm weather will cause the grass to grow and you’ll need to mow.

Spring rains will cause tulips to bloom, and then the flowers fade, and they need to be pruned. Forsythia plants, too, demand yearly pruning to stimulate new growth after flowering.

Cabbage and pansy transplants can be planted soon. Pots need to be moved from storage and placed on the deck or patio. Soil in containers or the ground will need turning.

And then there’s the debris that’s lying all over the place after winter. Leaves will be raked. Sticks picked up.

Most of us will save this for a Saturday, and if everything goes normally, on Sunday we’ll be paying for the activity with strained muscles that give us cause for forsaking gardening for the rest of the year. But we don’t.

Gardening is exercise no matter how you dig it. You use muscles, and in most cases, muscles you don’t use daily. That’s where the pain comes in. And after months of being cooped up indoors, those muscles have forgotten everything they learned last year about gardening.

The University of Illinois Extension likes to minimize stresses and strains with our BodySmart Gardening program, which takes into account four main areas – warm-up exercises, the proper clothing, the proper tools, and the correct way to use the tools.

Watch bodybuilders and distant runners. They always warm up with stretches to loosen tighten muscles, and prepare the body for what follows. Gardeners should do the same.

Start with 5 to 10 minutes of stretches before gardening. Since you should be bending your knees instead of your back, start with knee bends. Take your hands and stretch them over your head, going up on your toes. Standing against a wall or supported by a chair, take your right arm and pull your right leg up behind you. Hold it for 10 seconds. Switch sides, and repeat several times.

If the stretches are extremely uncomfortable, stop. Realize, though, that if the stretches hurt, then the gardening won’t be any easier. Start out slow. Give yourself a week to warm up, gradually moving to longer stretching activities.

Do the same after gardening. Stretch a bit then go and relax with a cool drink.

Bodybuilders don’t work the same muscles over and over and over. They change their routines often. Gardeners should do the same. Start with one activity, but either take a 5 minute break every 15 minutes, or switch to some other chore that uses a totally different set of muscles. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a timer outside and setting it for 15 minutes.

So, you might dig for 15 minutes. Then rake for another 15 minutes. Follow this with pruning or watering. One way to force you to take a break is to drink eight ounces of water every 15 to 30 minutes. The water will keep you from becoming dehydrated, but after bottle after bottle after bottle, you will definitely need to take a break no matter what.

Don’t do everything one day or one weekend. Plan out the chores. Use flags or sticks to mark progress. Remember the Chinese adage about small steps and big journeys.

And realize that you might not be able to do the things you did 10 years ago. It’s called “aging” and there’s nothing wrong with it. There’s also nothing wrong with using it as a reason to NOT do the same things you did before.

Next month we’ll look at the new tools on the market just in time for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.


More Information:

David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.


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