Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
Whether it's peak gardening season or winding down as it is now, most gardeners have a tendency to overdo, which may lead to fatigue and sore muscles. That's why, regardless of the tasks at hand, it's important to take periodic breaks when gardening--preferably before the aches begin--to rest and do some simple exercises.
Many gardening activities, such as hoeing, digging, and raking, can cause tightness in your shoulders. To relieve this, do shoulder shrugs. Simply raise your shoulders slowly towards your ears, hold a few seconds, and slowly release. Do this three or four times, resting a few seconds between each repetition.
Do neck stretches to relieve tension in your neck as soon as you start to feel tense. Place your hand on the back of your head. Slowly and gently pull your head forward and down. Do this until you feel the muscles along your neck and lower head stretch. Your profile should look like an upside down "J." Repeat a few times, resting in between.
Another good neck exercise for tightness is the head roll. Roll your left ear toward your left shoulder slowly. Then lower your chin as you roll your head down and to the right. Your right ear should then be toward your right shoulder. Then slowly move back in the same fashion. The key is not to jerk your neck, rather move it with a slow rhythm. Do not roll your head backwards as this puts stress on the disks in your spine.
To plant or weed, get down on your hands and knees, rather than bending over. Bending over for long periods and bending with your back and not your legs are the main causes of lower back problems.
When working on your hands and knees, periodically do the cat stretch. Raise your stomach and back, arching the latter like a cat does when waking from a nap. At the same time, lower your head and tuck your chin in towards your chest to avoid strain on your neck. Do this slowly, repeating the movements a few times with a rest in between.
An even better version of this stretch, and one that aids your lower
back, is to lower
your buttocks until they rest on your knees. Lower your head as before, but stretch your arms out front along the ground. Do either version of this stretch if weeding for long periods.
Your fingers and wrists also need a rest and loosening up occasionally. The repetitive motion of using a trowel or long handled rake or hoe can stress your hands and wrists and may even lead to carpel tunnel syndrome. To avoid such stress on your wrists, periodically let them go floppy and limp. Then rotate them in one direction, then the other. Finally, give them a good shaking to get the circulation going.
For your fingers, spread them apart as much as you can, keeping them as straight as possible. Keeping them spread, make circles with your thumbs. Then touch your thumb to each finger in turn. This will help relax the tendons in your palm.
Make a point to do these exercises whenever gardening to avoid undue stress on your body muscles and to keep gardening fun, as well as healthy exercise. For more tips, surf the Internet or check out books, such as Barbara Pearlman's Gardener's Fitness, Weeding Out the Aches and Pains (Taylor Trade Publishing).