Gardening and Arthritis

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

The potential benefits of gardening are many and include both physical and emotional rewards. For example:

  • Gardening can provide regular physical activity that strengthens the major muscle groups, increases one’s range of motion and promotes joint flexibility
  • Growing the right plants can add healthful nutritional options to one’s diet.
  • Enjoying the great outdoors can help counter stress, perhaps even lower blood pressure, and can increase vitamin D levels for bone health.
  • But what if gardening has become painful due to arthritis? A partnership between AgrAbility, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored program, and the Arthritis Foundation’s Indiana Chapter is tackling that question. For starters, the group recommends working in an environment designed to minimize arthritis-related aches and pains. For example:

  • Try tending a smaller garden.
  • Grow lower maintenance plants (such as perennials, which require less frequent replanting).
  • Take advantage of technology! Try out ergonomic gardening tools especially made to combat wear and tear on the body — like tools with extendable handles that cut down on the need to reach and to bend over.
  • Arrange for a nearby source of water in order to avoid hauling heavy water pitchers and hoses.
  • Raise or lower work surfaces, as needed, to ward off discomfort.
  • The group also has some good-sense tips for preventing overexertion while gardening. For example:

  • Warm up with some gentle stretching before getting to work.
  • Break down ambitious projects into smaller tasks. Don’t try to do everything in one day!
  • Alternate more demanding activities with less taxing ones.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Take rest breaks often.
  • If a task is too strenuous, get help.
  • Persons with physical impairments or yard-space limitations that preclude outdoor gardening can still enjoy this wholesome activity! Many flowers, herbs and vegetables will thrive in pots kept on the porch or on windowsills.

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