Get Gardening Muscles in Shape and Prevent Injuries

Get Gardening Muscles in Shape and Prevent Injuries. Before digging, pruning, and planting, make sure you’re ready for the work

by Susan Moeller, AARP, March 15, 2021

Christine Zellers tries to run five miles every day and, at 53, considers herself to be in shape. But even she admits that gardening can leave her sore and achy.

“I feel it, especially in the beginning of the season,” she says. 

Zellers, an assistant professor of family and community health sciences with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, New Jersey, teaches gardening, leads group exercise classes, and grows vegetables and herbs in her own garden in Ocean City, New Jersey. To protect her body, she tries to remember to stretch and limber up before heading out to dig, plant, or lug big pots around.

“You want to be thinking about the kind of movement you’re going to do and make sure you’re strengthening those body parts, like your core and your back and your legs and your quadriceps,” she says. “So you want to warm up a little bit just like you would if you were going for a run or doing an exercise class.”

Gardeners and health experts warn against jumping into gardening activities without some pre-game preparation to build strength, stamina and aerobic power and prevent injury. 

For example, if your core body strength is off, your balance is also off, making falls a risk, says Maura Daly Iversen, a physical therapist and dean of the College of Health Professions at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. And you need aerobic capacity to do the work, she says.

“My friends that don’t garden think it’s light work,” says Iversen, who admits to being an “over-50” gardener. “But it can be pretty hefty work when you’re removing bushes and whatever. So I think cardiovascular fitness is also important.”

No gym membership needed

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