Growing Good Garden Habits

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Fresh air and fresh veggies! Delicious garden treats to nourish our bodies, and perhaps a bouquet of flowers to nourish the spirit! Experts in healthy aging have long known that gardening and yard work provide good exercise and a great mood boost as well. Seniors who garden also consume on average more vegetables and fruit in their diets.

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Experts from Chicago's Loyola University Health System remind us that just as with any form of exercise, it's important to practice safe body mechanics while planting, pruning, weeding and raking.

"Working in your garden is a great way to exercise. Whether pulling weeds or spreading mulch, you are using major muscles all over your body and you're sure to break a sweat," said Kara Smith, special programs coordinator for the Loyola University Health System's Center for Fitness.

The Center offers these gardening exercise tips:

  1. Don't make it a marathon; keep a regular gardening routine. Schedule at least 30-60 minutes of yard work two to three times per week.
  2. Warm up your body by taking a brisk walk around the yard.
  3. When raking, change the movement and alternate the sides of your body to ensure you are working them equally.
  4. When digging, switch hands often so you are using both arms. This helps prevent muscle imbalances, repetitive motion injuries and blisters.
As with any good exercise program be sure to cool down with these stretches to help alleviate post-yardwork aches and pains:
  1. Hamstring stretch: Stand with feet shoulder width apart and slide one foot in front of the other. Gently sit your hips back and support your upper body on the leg you did not move. Hold for 15-30 seconds and switch legs
  2. Lower back stretch: Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Bend knees slightly and bend at the hips. Support your upper body with your hands on your thighs. Gently round your back so it arches like a cat.
  3. Chest opening: Stand tall and relax your shoulders down your back. Reach hands back with thumbs pointing up. If this is uncomfortable, grasp hands behind back and lift your chest.
  4. Upper-back stretch: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bring palms together and reach arms away from body. Feel the stretch between your shoulder blades.
To ensure a healthful experience, here are a few more tips to keep in mind while working in the yard:
  1. Wear sunscreen, long-sleeved shirts, pants and a wide-brimmed hat to limit sun exposure to your skin.
  2. Drink plenty of water.
  3. Bend at your knees and keep your back straight when lifting heavy items.
  4. Use a kneeling cushion to support your knees.
  5. Use gloves to help prevent blisters on your hands.

As with any exercise program, be sure to check with your physician before you start and listen to your body for signs of stress and fatigue.  

Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 28 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties.

For More Information

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer more health and safety suggestions for gardeners, including tips for people with disabilities.