Tips For Aging Gardeners
Do you have any healthy tips for achy gardeners? My 71-year-old mother loves to work in her yard and garden, but over the past few years has been plagued with aches and pains to her back, knees and hands.
There's no doubt that gardening is one of America's favorite outdoor activities, but for older gardeners who suffer from arthritis, back problems or other physical limitations, gardening can become painful, difficult and downright frustrating.
While many people think of gardening as a leisurely activity, the truth is it can be extremely physical and taxing on an aging body, leading to multiple aches and pains as well as injuries. In fact, it's estimated that anywhere from one-third to half of all summer recreational injuries are related to gardening. Back pain and knee injuries are common, along with carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and other repetitive stress injuries caused by overuse of nerves and muscles.
What to Do
With gardening, good form is very important as is not overdoing any one activity. A common problem is gardeners often kneel or squat, putting extra pressure on their knees. To spare their knees, they might stand and bend over for long stretches to weed, dig and plant, straining their backs and spines. Bending over to pick up plants and bags of soil takes an added toll on the back.
To help your mom protect her body, gardening gurus recommend warming up before beginning. Start by stretching, focusing on the legs and lower back. And keep changing positions and activities. Don't spend hours weeding a flower bed. After 15 minutes of weeding, stand up, stretch and switch to another activity like pruning the bushes, or just take a break. It's also important to recognize physical limitations and adjust to them. For example, if mowing the lawn wears your mom out and she has no energy left to tend to her flowers or vegetable garden, hire someone to mow.
The right gardening equipment can help as well. Kneeling pads can protect knees and gardening stools are both back and knee savers. Long-handled tools (see www.hound-dog.com and www.yardbutlerstore.com) can also ease the strain on the back. Although your mom still may need to get down in the dirt eventually, using a hoe, shovel or bulb planter with a longer handle allows her to do a lot of the work from a standing position so she'll spend less time bent over. The goal, whether she's planting or hauling bags of mulch, is to keep the spine as straight as possible.
Ergonomic tools with fatter handles and other design features are also readily available and can make lawn and garden activities a little easier. See www.radiusgarden.com and www.fiskars.com to find these types of unique tools, and visit www.gardeningwithease.com for a wide variety of ergonomic gardening equipment.
And let's not forget about watering. The chore of carrying water or handling a heavy, awkward hose also can be difficult for many older gardeners. Some helpful options include soaker or drip hoses that can be snaked throughout the garden, a coil hose to use on patios or small areas, a hose caddy and reel for easier transport around the yard or a self-winding hose chest (see www.no-crank.com) that puts the hose away automatically. There are also a variety of ergonomic watering wands that are lightweight, easy to grip and reach those hard-to-get-to plants. Many of these watering items can be found in local stores that sell lawn and garden supplies, or see www.gardeners.com.
If your mom's garden is causing her too many aches and pains, there are other ways she can keep those thumbs green. One solution is container gardening, using big pots, window boxes, hanging baskets, barrels and tub planters that can eliminate much of the bend and strain of gardening but still gives her the pleasure of making things grow. Trellises are another nice option, allowing her to garden vertically instead of horizontally, and raised garden beds also eliminate kneeling, stooping and bending.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.
The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.