Protect Yourself During Gardening and Yard Work
Dr. Brenda Trudell

With gardening and yard work season in full swing, many people are doing physical labor every weekend .  From a health standpoint, yard work is one of the most well rounded activities you can do. But it is important to properly prepare your body to avoid injuries so you can pull weeds and not your back.

Gardening and yard work have many health benefits, including prevention of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.  It clears your mind after a long stressful day.  It calls for creativity and gives your brain a workout.  Gardening connects you with nature and the natural rhythm of life, allowing you to slow down and relax.  Deep cleansing breaths of fresh air circulate oxygen to your muscles and organs.  Being in sunshine gives you the best source of Vitamin D available. Gardening also provides the freshest and healthiest produce, which provides additional health benefits.

Yard work is an activity that provides regular physical exercise, both aerobic and strength training, and for this reason, it has tremendous health benefits.  It uses all the major muscle groups-the one that burn the most calories-such as buttocks, legs, shoulders, stomach, arms, neck and back.  Gardening strengthens muscles and joints through lifting, pushing, pulling and digging motions.  It increases flexibility with stretching and reaching motions.  It builds aerobic endurance and burns calories by walking and changing positions frequently.

Just how many calories are burned in an hour of yard work?  Depending on weight, activity, and intensity level, it’s possible to burn anywhere from 250-500 calories an hour.  For weight loss, gardening has enormous potential.  To lose one pound of fat, you need to burn 3500 calories.  If you gardened one hour a day and burned 500 calories, you could lose one pound a week. Plus, you will be eating the healthy produce that also promotes weight loss.

Number of calories burned varies by activity.  Trimming shrubs and trees burns about 360 cal/hour.  Raking grass and leaves, planting and weeding each burns 300 cal/hour.  Clearing land and digging burns 400 cal/hour.  It is easy to see how the fast the calories can add up, especially if you garden for five or six hours a day.

People often forget that gardening is strenuous physical work and fail to properly warm-up and condition their muscles.  As with any type of exercise, it is important to consult a physician before beginning, especially if you have a history of back or heart problems.  It is also important to start out slowly to build up endurance. Begin building endurance by walking, stair climbing or doing squats a month or two before you get out in the garden.  Muscles respond better to the increased physical activity when they are properly conditioned, leading to fewer injuries.

Warming up with a brisk walk will loosen muscles and ligaments and get your blood flowing. After warming up, stretch the muscle groups you will be using the most.  Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and avoid jerking or bouncing.  It is important to stretch the muscles in the motions you will be using them. For instance, if you will be doing mostly overhead work, stretch your shoulders by reaching up, not just across your chest. You need to stretch in the way that you will be working.

Make sure to switch positions and hands frequently by varying your activities.  Remaining in one position for too long, especially one that is awkward or unusual, can restrict blood flow to tissues and promote sprains/strains.  Switch sides with jobs that require repetitive motions.  Doing all the raking, hoeing or shoveling on one side can lead to severe joint imbalances, spinal misalignments and muscle spasm. Try to switch it up every ten minutes to give your tired muscle groups a break. Using a variety of ergonomic tools, especially long handled ones that give you leverage, will put you in an optimal position and decrease stress on various parts of your body.

To protect your low back, avoid stooping and bending.  Try kneeling with kneepads or sit on a small stool so you are closer to the ground.  Whenever you are lifting, pushing or pulling, make sure to engage your core muscles to give more support to the low back area.  To do this, draw your belly button in towards your spine and remain as straight and tight as you can..  Avoid activities where you are bending forward, twisting sideways and tossing something, such as shoveling and throwing a heavy load.  This is a very common back injury. Also, try to save the heavier work for midway through your project so muscles and joints are properly warmed up. And always make sure to carry objects close to your body to reduce the risk of strain to your neck and back.

Even with preventative measures you may still find yourself with an injury.  There is a difference between tired muscles from working hard, and muscle spasms or pain from an injury. If you notice pain or difficulty while you are working, STOP!  You may cause serious damage by overdoing it. Ice and rest are best for an injury during the first 48-72 hours.   Be sure to avoid heat as it increases the amount of inflammation in the area and can slow the healing process. A chiropractor can evaluate your injury and help you determine the best treatment. Chiropractic adjustments realign your body to promote balance and healing.  Many people notice they heal faster and are less likely to re-injure the same areas when they are treated by a chiropractor.

Gardening and yard work are very important activities to many people.  The list of health benefits is long and the rewards are many.  To ensure that you can continue to garden year after year, it is important to take care of your body.  By taking precautions ahead of time, conditioning muscles, and properly treating injuries if they do occur, you will continue to reap the rewards of your bounty for a long time.

Dr. Brenda Trudell is a chiropractor and owner of New Beginnings Chiropractic in Mount Horeb.  The clinic focuses on natural health, especially for women, pregnancy and children through chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, infrared sauna therapy, personal fitness, essential oils, nutrition and more. For more information, visit