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Getting fit and staying safe in the garden

Getting fit and staying safe in the garden

Fresh flowers, tasty garden vegetables, scented herbs, wonderful colours – the rewards from a well-tended garden are endless. Gardening is not just for the retired – it is an active and absorbing hobby for everyone. Even better, the gardener also benefits from the effort involved.

Although the British weather continues to keep us on our toes with its unpredictability, it is now definitely gardening season. The Chelsea Flower Show celebrates its centenary this month, with more shows coming up to inspire us further.  Gardens at stately homes and in public parks are also leaping into life, showing off the best of our native plants and flowers. For anyone who enjoys the outdoors, it is a wonderful time of year.

The definition of a weed is ‘plant that flourishes no matter what you do’ – so you will always have some form of vegetation! However for those seeking to grow more than nettles and ground elder, it is definitely time to open up the shed and dust off the secateurs.

Gardening is an excellent form of exercise, with a great by-product of flowers, fresh vegetables, smart lawns, herbs and garden wildlife. It may seem leisurely – but anyone who has spent a long day in the garden or on the allotment will know that gardening is tougher than you might expect. It is not usually an aerobic exercise but involves bending, stretching, lifting and twisting.  Done properly, it strengthens and tones muscles, keeps joints flexible and has all the benefits of being in the fresh air and sunshine.

However we all know someone who has suffered after a day in the garden. To make sure that your efforts leave you feeling better, not worse, consider the following.

In best Boy Scout tradition, be prepared. Wear proper shoes that protect feet from spikes and stings, and from misplaced tools or dropped items. If it is between April and October, slap on some sun-cream. Most people do not realise how strong the sun’s rays are in the UK, and it is easier than you think to get burned if you spend a long time outside. Protect eyes with sunglasses, or safety glasses if you are going to be rummaging around in sharp or spiked vegetation. Get hold of some decent gardening gloves (not the pretty floral ones that are sold for ‘ladies’) and a waterproof kneeler pad for tackling those weeds.

Warm up those muscles - walk briskly around and do some gentle stretches before picking up the heavy tools. Gardening will get you fitter and burn some calories, but if you have been very inactive make sure that you ease yourself in gently.

Digging is more technical than you might think. Back in World War II when the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign was running, the information leaflets issued by the government included one called ‘how to dig’. Incorrect technique leads to back injuries, so take care with a spade. Use your foot to push the spade vertically into the ground and keep your back straight when levering up the soil. Don’t twist your body to get rid of the soil – walk a few steps to drop it, and always bend the knees when lifting so that you use your thighs, not your back.

On the subject of backs – lifting injuries are one of the commonest problems in the garden. If you have a heavy object to move, employ proper manual handling techniques. Think about the lift –where are you going with the object? Is there anything in the way? Put on some gloves, bend your knees and keep your back straight. Keep the object close to your body as you carry it.

Don’t try to be tough by lifting heavy containers or water butts – get help. If you are lifting an object with more than one person, plan the lift first. The best way is for one person to be in charge of the lift. This person makes sure everyone is positioned, and then counts to three. On the word ‘three’ everyone lifts together. Putting the object down also needs care and should also be done on a count: ‘three, two, one and down’.  If you want a demonstration, watch any of the popular medical dramas to see how they lift the patients; the actors have to do it for real!

To avoid ending up in your own medical drama, wear the correct safety equipment. This is especially important if you are using power tools. That means goggles and ear defenders, and sufficient clothing. You may think you look a bit silly – but you will look a lot sillier in the casualty department! Don’t take chances with tools. Electrically powered items should always be used with an RCD safety device, and think twice before using power tools while standing on a ladder. If in doubt, call the professionals.

What about those who don’t have their own little patch of land? If you would like to get involved but don’t have a garden of your own, contact your council about an allotment. There is sometimes a waiting list for these, so ask around to see if anybody would like to share the work on their allotment in return for some of the produce.

Regular gardeners seem to be fitter, happier and to live longer than those who don’t get outside – so pull on the gloves and get into the garden!