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Garden for Your Health

If you love to garden but find it increasingly difficult,
there’s a bumper crop of modified strategies, equipment, and ergonomic tools
today.

“Arthritis can make gardening into a tougher task than it
needs to be,” says Amber Wolfe, national AgrAbility project specialist,
Arthritis Foundation, Indianapolis, Indiana. “You don’t have to give it up.”

Arthritis is the top cause of disability in the U.S. More
than half of individuals who have arthritis are younger than 65 years old.
Gardening includes a lot of bending, kneeling, twisting, repetitive motions,
and heavy lifting that can stress joints.

However, gardening helps to maintain range of motion, bone
density and strength, joint flexibility, and overall quality of life, Wolfe
says. It also reduces stress.

“Movement is medicine,” she says. “Take frequent breaks and
change positions.”

She offers three rules of thumb for healthy gardening:

  1. Pace yourself. “It’s important to recognize your
    threshold and to know when to stop,” she says.
  2. Warm up joints. Stretch before, during, and afterward.
  3. Use proper tools. Look for ergonomic, adapted tools with
    long handles or knee pads.

Wolfe says some garden carts promote poor posture. “The
upper back has limited movement,” she says. “Your lower back needs to be able
to flex forward and backward. It should not twist.”

She adds, “Consider relocating your garden closer to your
tools and water supply, applying different methods of weed control, or
switching to more low-maintenance plants.

Garden tillers can be a source of excessive vibration. Wolfe
advises asking your doctor about wearing wrist or back splints while you’re
doing repetitive tasks.

Try something new

Steve Swain, Breaking New Ground, Purdue University rural
rehabilitation specialist, suggests modifying your gardening style to include
these options:

  • Decorative pots on wheels
  • Window boxes
  • Trellises
  • Raised beds (18 inches off the ground if using a
    wheelchair)

For greater gardening mobility, Swain recommends 3- to
4-foot-wide paths that allow for using garden carts and utility vehicles.

“Straw bales can become an easy raised bed,” he says. “It’s
a disease-free growing medium and is cost efficient for vegetables like
tomatoes and peppers.”

He adds, “Some tools today are made specifically for women.
They’re made of lighter materials and have smaller grips.”

Green Heron Tools, launched in 2008 by Ann Adams and Liz
Brensinger, was the first company focused on scientifically designing farm and
garden tools for women. To see more tools like the ones featured here, call
610/844-5232 or visit greenherontools.com.

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In general, ergonomic tools:

  • Neutralize joint position
  • Minimize stress
  • Are appropriately sized or padded
  • Reduce vibration
  • Offer thumb rest/grips/handles
  • Are spring-loaded and power-assistive
  • Have adjustable handle height

“With proper body mechanics, well-designed tools, and
frequent rest breaks, you can continue to enjoy gardening,” Wolfe says. 

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