How to - The Healthy Gardener

Stretch before garden chores

Prevent injury when gardening

Warm-up exercises
To reduce muscle strain, fatigue and the risk of injury, take a few minutes to do warm-up stretches before getting down to work, especially in spring, since your gardening muscles may have been inactive over winter. Movements should be slow and controlled; you should feel a gentle stretch of the muscle. Once you feel the stretch, hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds; don't bounce or jerk. Perform each stretch two or three times and repeat the series at the end of your gardening activity to prevent any stiffness.

Start by marching on the spot until you feel warm. (For complete illustrations of these exercises, see the web site.)

Neck
While sitting or standing with good posture, do the following:
• Tilt head forward, bringing chin toward collarbone.
• Keeping face forward, tip ear toward shoulder. Repeat on other side.

Shoulders
• Grasp elbow with opposite hand. Pull elbow and arm across chest until you feel a gentle stretch at back of arm; make sure shoulder isn't hunched. Repeat on other side.
• Clasp hands behind head. Press elbows back until you feel a gentle stretch at front of shoulders.

Wrists
• Holding arm straight out in front, point hand downward toward floor. With other hand, gently pull fingers toward you until you feel a stretch. Repeat on other side.
• Hold hands in front of chest, palms together, fingers pointing upward. Bend wrists until you feel a stretch.

Lower back and legs
• While standing, place hands firmly on hips. Bend backwards until you feel a stretch.
• Clasp hands together over head. Lean to one side, keeping back straight, until you feel a stretch in your side. Repeat on other side.
• Using a wall for support, grasp ankle behind you. Push leg back to stretch front of thigh, keeping thigh in line with body. Repeat on other side.

Good bones
Gardening helps slow down bone loss and improve strength and balance.

Weight-bearing exercises, such as gardening, are important for maintaining healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis, a condition whereby bones become weak and break easily, says Emily Cooper, a research assistant with Toronto General Hospital. Another bonus from gardening is the vitamin D your body produces from being out in the sun (but remember to cover up after 15 minutes or so to protect against excess sun exposure). Vitamin D works with calcium to build strong bones and reduce the risk of fractures.

Postmenopausal women interested in participating in a TGH bone density study can call 416/340-4843 or e-mail bonehealth@uhn.on.ca.

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