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Washington Voices

Pat Munts: Early-season gardening can be a stiff challenge

Let me guess; you spent all of last weekend out in the yard doing spring chores and Monday you crawled into work barely able to move.

How do I know? That’s what I did. Despite all that, gardening is one of the best ways to get and stay in shape.

As you prune, pull weeds, dig holes and rake up rocks, you are working all the major muscle groups like you would if you were going through the weight stations at the gym. Over time, this helps to increasing your endurance, flexibility and overall strength.

The trick to doing this without the pain is to start slowly and not do too much too quickly. Start by spacing out the work over a long period of time. Not every project needs to be done in a single weekend. Try working on small projects in the evening now that we have more daylight. Working for 15 to 30 minutes an evening for a week or so will get your muscles used to the activity as well as get a project a little closer to being done. If your body tells you it’s getting tired, stop for a while and rest.

Use your movements wisely. Back, shoulder and elbow problems are common, especially when doing repetitive tasks like raking. Stop frequently or go do something else for a while and come back to the raking. Remember the rule to bend using your knees instead of your back; your knees are far more flexible than your back. If getting down and up off the ground is getting to be a challenge, invest in a small stool or rolling cart you can move around on.

If you still manage to overdo it, try taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, aspirin or use good old-fashioned ice. Put ice on the area for 15 to 20 minutes, remove it and let the body rewarm, then apply the ice again. It goes without saying though that if you are really concerned about how you feel, see your medical professional as soon as possible.

Beyond exercise, gardening is as good for the spirit as it is the body. Being out in nature and working with plants has a profound impact on our psychological well-being. In our stress-filled, overprogrammed lives where technology sets the pace, a little gardening offers the simplicity of soil, seeds and seasonal cycles that keeps us in touch with the world around us and lets us reconnect with ourselves. There really is something to stopping and smelling the roses.

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