Get the ‘dirt’ on safe gardening

The birds are singing, the tulips and daffodils have bloomed, and it’s time to plant perennials and clean up the yard. Gardening is relaxing, isn’t it? Actually, digging and cultivating large areas of gardens for just a few minutes can significantly boost your heart rate and blood pressure with increases equivalent to those achieved while running to exhaustion on a treadmill.

Individuals at risk of heart disease, particularly smokers and those with high “bad” cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, must be very cautious before tackling a strenuous gardening project.

“Even people who are completely healthy and in excellent physical condition are injured while gardening,” said Kelli Martz, NHA at ManorCare Williamsport North. “Back and muscle strain are major concerns. Turning over the garden, especially after a long wet winter, is strenuous work and should be approached slowly and deliberately.”

Gardening uses all the major muscle groups — legs, buttocks, shoulders, stomach, arms, neck and back — all get a workout.

ManorCare Williamsport Campus offers some safety tips to follow while you get your garden ready this spring:

• If you have a history of heart trouble, speak to your physician before you begin working in the garden.

• Take the time to do some back stretches before you begin. This includes before mowing.

• Lift with your legs bent, not your back. Keep your back straight. By bending into the movement, you’ll keep your spine upright and less stressed. Don’t pick up too much potting soil or mulch at once. Scoop up half a shovel full or less, or buy smaller, more manageable bags.

• If you have a bad back, consider having a raised “container” garden that allows you to sit or stand upright while you tend your plants.

• Rest frequently, wear sunscreen and make sure you get enough to drink.

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