Staying Strong And Healthy Despite Gardening


Stretching Reduces Kvetching

yogafrogThis amazing weather magnetically attracts us into the garden. It’s truly impossible to resist the lure of a soft, warm, sunny day when soil is begging to be planted. My new garden is indeed irresistible and thus I am now hobbling around groaning. Silly me. I know better than to jump from weekly gardening to full on daily sessions without doing a little prep.

Sadly, part of my brain thinks I’m still 40, or even 50, when I could be outside all day and feel pleasantly tired after 8 or 10 hours of garden grunt work. During my recent garden renovation, the father of my usual gardening guy did just that. He and a cousin put in a full day building the berm, then cheerfully offered to move half a dozen enormous Fatsia japonicas that had been too close to the house for over 30 years. Less than an hour later, the 10-foot-tall shrubs were pruned and transplanted to the back of the new berm and their original home site was raked smooth. Yikes!

Let’s Be Real

After some thought, I realized that this skillful guy might not be 50 years old yet, or maybe just. So, at his age, I was also still going strong. However, that was then. Now, I am just going grey, and it’s really not the same. This was painfully brought to my attention this week, when I put in a brisk morning gardening at the Waypoint, a wonderful public park-ette near the ferry dock. Now two years old, this welcoming gateway to the island features a bean-shaped bed of about 5,000 square feet and an L-shaped one of about 10,000 square feet. This one, which we call the Wild Garden, backs into a steep ravine populated with deer, raccoons, opossums and lots of birds.

Between them, the beds now hold in the neighborhood of 6,000 plants, many of them natives. Once a month (third Friday mornings, in case you’re around), a handful of stalwart volunteers spend a few hours tidying up, transplanting and reorganizing as the beds fill in and we see what works and what’s not. This spring, we started a massive mulching effort using arborist’s chips (whole tree, not just bark) to keep weeds down. It’s working well, but there are always things to reorganize in a young garden.

Uh Oh

As I hopped over the low stone walls in a carefree manner, I noticed that I wasn’t getting the bounce I’m used to. One leg seemed to be dragging a bit, but I didn’t pay any attention (of course). By the time we were packing it in, I thought my back was tweaked a bit and did some hip rolls in the parking lot. This little exercise might be the gardener’s best friend; you do a pelvic tilt and make small (barely noticeable) hip circles, first in one direction, then the other. This is not a hula hoop action, just a controlled little release that frees up the lower back (usually).

By the time I got home I could hardly walk, so I did some floor mat yoga stretches for the back, which helped. Best for a lower back tweak is a gentle hip roll that places both knees to one side while the back and shoulders stay flat. You hold that until your body relaxes (say a minute or two), then slowly switch sides. I also did some hamstring releases, lying flat with bent knees and feet flat on the mat, then lifting one leg to the sky, foot flat and straight up, supporting the lifted thigh with your hands. Again, hold for 1 minute or so, then switch sides.


So far so good, right? Next morning, I felt fine, so… Do you think I stretched a bit to warm up? Why no! I jumped right in and planted all morning. That afternoon, the burn was so acute I could hardly walk, sit or stand. I felt too sore to stretch (silly again) and spent a miserable night, able to sort-of sleep only in child’s pose (not actually all that comfy, truthfully). The next day, I could again hardly find a comfortable position and I am embarrassed to admit how long it took me to admit that I needed some help.

A kind friend who is a massage therapist suggested that ice would help, and so it did (and does today, too). An old (ha!) friend reminded me that I have had sciatica before. (Oh yeah.) Another pal asked me if I was still doing yoga stretches regularly. (No.) So. Here’s the end of this shaggy dog tale: Please let me save you some impressive discomfort! Stretch. Stretch. Stretch. Hips, hams, hands, neck and shoulders, all joints. Before, during, and after gardening.

Note To Self

Will I remember to take better care of myself? Given the recent track record, that seems doubtful. However, I am taking advantage of my increasing dependency on reminder notes and writing “stretch” in my daily calendar, not just for the next week or two but at the beginning of each week all year long. All. Year. Long.

This entry was posted in Garden Prep, Gardening With Children, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Staying Strong And Healthy Despite Gardening

  1. Carol says:

    Hi Ann,

    I enjoy reading your posts. You must be about my age. 🙂 I had a couple of injuries (muscle tears) last year from gardening. In both cases the physical therapist said that I should warm up before exercising/gardening and wait to stretch at the end. So, I’ve been doing a few “step-ups” with each leg on a stair and do a few lifts with 5 lb weights before I get out there and use my muscles. I’ve been waiting to stretch until after I’m finished. This has helped me greatly. Be well!

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Yup, at this time of life (rich, ripe maturity, more or less), I’m learning that the first twinge has to be my guide to stop and stretch. That may be all the red flag I get before disaster arrives!

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