Gardening: Good for Your Soul, but Potentially Tough on Your Body
After being cooped up inside after the long winter months, May most often signals longer hours of sunlight, warmer temperatures and the kickoff to gardening season.
Before rolling up your sleeves and digging your hands into the fresh spring soil, the following tips can help you prepare your mind and body for planting and pruning a bountiful summer garden.
To Truly Blossom, Start With a Plan
Before you go outside lifting branches, dragging limbs and clearing a path for this year’s garden, it’s important to bear in mind that gardening is actually a pretty physical activity. In the beginning, it can be helpful to set out and follow a gradual plan to maintain your body’s physical health and keep you from getting burned out mentally.
From personal experience as a gardener and from what she’s learned from her gardening clients, Maureen O’Brien, massage therapist at Elements Westford, believes that a good gardening plan should include the following:
- Stretch before you head outside to prepare your legs, lower back, shoulders and hands for the physical labor associated with gardening.
- Wear clothing that protects you from the sun and allows you to move around more freely.
- Hydrate yourself before, during and after you garden.
- Wear gloves to protect your hands, a hat and sunscreen to protect you from the sun, and sunglasses for eye safety.
- Use padding equipment, such as knee cushions, to help minimize the pressure on this injury-prone area of your body if you’re kneeling on the ground.
- Be mindful of how you move. Make sure that you’re not doing too much repetitive motions and bend with your knees when lifting, not your back.
“The key to having an enjoyable gardening experience is to go into it with a plan,” explains O’Brien. “It’s also important to remember to do everything in moderation and to have fun with it too. If you can, it can be good to invite a friend to join you while you garden. It’s twice as much fun, and half the work.”
A Flexible Body Promotes Seasonal Longevity
On the surface, gardening may seem like a passive activity. But when you get outside bending, crouching, digging and lifting, your body will soon realize that it’s a good workout that can cause physical strain and pain if you aren’t careful.
O’Brien sees that the most common injuries, aches and pains tend to be in the hands, knees and lower back areas. She always recommends regular massage therapy sessions during the spring and summer months to help repair and relax her clients’ tight and tense muscles from gardening. But, O’Brien also suggests the following stretches for daily maintenance and preparation during the gardening season.
- Bend at the waist to stretch your lower back and the backside of your legs. You don’t have to necessarily touch your toes, as the weight of your upper body will cause the stretch to happen naturally.
- Keep the muscles and tendons around the knee loose and moving by stretching your quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles before heading outside.
- Stretching the neck is important for releasing tension in the neck and shoulder area, as well as to maintain mobility. A few easy head rolls before digging into your garden can help loosen this common upper body area that is prone to tension build-up and strain.
- When wrists start to ache or fingers start to cramp, rub the muscles in your hands and wrist area with lotion before and after gardening to loosen and stretch the tight, sore area.
“People don’t really look at gardening as being active. But it’s actually quite physical when you start thinking about all of the different movements involved,” describes O’Brien. “Stretching before gardening can yield a more comfortable activity for people to enjoy.”
A Grounded Gardener Bears Fruit
Gardening can be more than physical outdoor activity. It also can be a therapeutic experience that can help ground you emotionally and release stress as you labor in the outdoors.
Being one with nature and focusing on the task at hand can be good for the soul, especially when you know your work in the spring will pay off come harvest time when you enjoy picking fresh vegetables for your dinner salad and gazing out your window at sunset to the joy of blooming flowers.
“I’m fortunate to have a very nice, fertile yard. So we enjoy gardening quite a bit this time of year,” shares O’Brien. “Over the winter, I even do an indoor herb garden and then bring it outside in the spring time.
"I like being in tune with the earth as I garden and I think it’s therapeutic to get my hands in the dirt. I love the results of gardening as you literally see the fruits of your labor as you care for your plants and watch them through until they yield a harvest.”
As you get back out into your yard and garden area this time of year, enjoy the physical activity and the soothing mental release that can be associated with time outside, either on your own or with family and friends.