Gardening for good health | Health Beat

Health & Wellbeing


Introducing little ones to gardening activities can get them closer to homegrown, healthy foods—and it’s a wonderful way to nurture meaningful connections. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

People who garden sometimes face challenges that non-gardeners might never understand.

The gardener can be plagued by late frosts and scorching Augusts, or mocked by cabbage worms and brazen deer.

Some challenges, however, are completely avoidable.

A little planning and prevention can keep gardeners safe and fit throughout the season, from planting the first sweet peas to harvesting that last bouquet of asters.

Here are some ways to get the most out of this healthy hobby.

‘Micropause’

Many gardening tasks require people to remain in awkward positions for long periods. Aches and pains can be minimized by taking micropauses, Spectrum Health athletic trainer Holly Hall said.

“Take a break to get out of whatever position you’ve been in, and do the opposite motion,” Hall said. “So if you’ve been staring down at a row of plants as you weed, stretch up and look at the sky.”

Take one of these micropauses any time you start to feel discomfort, or every 20 minutes or so.

“And every hour, try and take a break of at least five minutes,” Hall said.

Dig with integrity

Researchers in biomechanics used high-tech tracking to study the load gardeners put on their backs and shoulders as they dug, and they found that good form is essential.

Bad posture worsened aches and pains in the lumbar regions—the lower back aches so many gardeners know all too well—by 50%.

Shoulder sensitivity was even worse: Poor form doubled that pain.

The best approach? Use a regular, repetitive technique and avoid erratic movement. Try to bend your back as little as possible and bend your knees as deeply as possible.

Dress differently

While a major benefit of gardening is more time outdoors and the chance to soak up a little vitamin D, sun exposure is a real risk.

In addition to sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends sun-protective clothing, such as lightweight and long-sleeved shirts and pants.

Look for items that include ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF, which blocks UVB and UVA radiation. The Skin Cancer Foundation found that a UPF 50 fabric blocks 98% of the sun’s rays, reducing the exposure risk significantly.

Add a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection.

Make simple changes

Simple changes make it possible to bend less. Just adding a knee cushion for kneeling tasks, or a small stool to sit on, can help, Hall said.

Add more containers or raised beds and consider adding a planting table nearby, suggests the Arthritis Foundation.

Tap into community

If weeding a flower bed in solitude makes you happy, that’s fine. But gardening also offers plenty of ways to turn a love of plants into valuable new social connections.

It may be as simple as joining a local gardening group on Facebook. Knowing how many people around you are asking the same questions can foster a sense of belonging.

Plant swaps and community plant sales also connect you to the wider world of gardening, offering real bargains and zip code-specific advice.

Make it a point to visit some of the community gardens in your neighborhood. You’ll find new ideas for inspiration, whether a new melon variety or vertical trellises.

Sprinkle in mindfulness

Taking frequent breaks while gardening can help prevent overuse injuries, but it can also take the hobby to new heights.

You can benefit by tapping into a few sensory observations. Hear a bumblebee in the zucchini flowers? Notice the grassy smell of tomato plants? Admire the ornate petals on a cabbage?

Whether you’re growing healthy food or cultivating beautiful flowers, gardening improves mental health.

One recent study found that millions of people who took to their gardens—including brand-new gardeners and those resuming an old interest—were rewarded by feeling closer to nature and feeling less stress, as well as enjoying the benefits of physical activity.

There’s even emerging evidence that the soil microbes we stir up in the earth have an antidepressant effect, stimulating serotonin.

Remember: Most people are gardening for fun, Hall said. There’s no need to go too hard.

“This is a hobby,” she said. “Something meant to be relaxing. So slow down and enjoy it.”





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