Gardening, Health and Ergonomics

Gardening, Health and Ergonomics

Book Review - Garden Your Way to Health and Fitness

or, The Gardener as an Athlete

I found this book by Bunny Guiness and Jacqueline Knox to be unusually interesting. Their fine inclusion of basic injury prevention and ergonomics into the everyday tasks done by home and more serious gardeners was inventive and interesting. The first recommendation in the book is to take a few minutes each day to balance, center and strengthen your body BEFORE picking up that spade or hoe.

Jacqueline Knox, a physiotherapist (British designation), states that in the Spring, approximately on in twenty of her patients are looking for help because of injuries that happened in the garden.

The book starts with exercises that return the spine to a neutral position, then moving on to engaging the deep stabilizing muscles.

This shows an unusual respect and recognition of the amount of work we expect our bodies to tolerate while we become absorbed in a favorite pastime. People who do hard manual labor know the importance of the neutral spine and seep stabilizers and are frequently taught techniques and exercises to assist in injury prevention. Now the gardener has a foot in the door.

While she goes through the exercises, Jacqueline occasionally shows photos of related garden tasks For example, after a trunk twist exercise, she illustrates with a photo and description of using a pickaxe. She has precautions and safety tips for the tool as well as the task.

Throughout the book there are numerous photos and pictures that clearly illustrate movements and concepts.

This book also contains some of the few effective upper - mid back exercises I have seen.

Next, Jacqueline leads the gardener through a 10 minute aerobic warm-up. This may start with a brisk walk. Her point here is that when inactive, muscles tend to be cool with a slower blood flow. The physical warm-up allows your muscles to be ready for the work you will soon be putting them to.

Jacqueline believes in stretching only AFTER you have warmed up your muscles. Although this may go against some other advice, her reasoning appears intuitively sound. Muscles become more malleable when they are warm. When cold, they are more apt to be injured.

Her tips for stretches are:

  • Avoid stretching before you begin moving in the garden but always stretch afterwards.
  • Don't stretch to far. Never force a stretch. The range should be comfortable for you.
  • Think about your posture while you stretch. Otherwise you may stretch where you don't intend to and loose the benefit you are looking for.
  • Stretch slowly. Avoid jerky or violent movement.
    • Jerky movements, and movements that are too fast or strong trigger the Stretch Response. In order to protect itself, the muscle tightens up and stiffens.
  • Be sure to keep breathing while you stretch.

The second chapter deals with garden aerobics, or how to lose weight by gardening.

The chapter starts with a list of various garden activities and the calories they require. The one that uses the most at 1100 cal per hour is Chopping Logs at a Fast Pace. The least is watering a lawn or garden, coming in at 90 cal per hour.

The main point is that gardening must be treated like any other exercise regimen. If you are out of condition or have physical limitations, start slowly and build up endurance.

  • pace yourself gradually
  • if you feel dizzy or faint or short of breath, stop immediately and seek medical advice
  • never move into aerobic gardening just after eating - Allow 2 hours.
  • remain hydrated and wear a sunhat if appropriate
  • stop if you feel pain
  • change position frequently
  • get a medical check'up if there is any question about your physical readiness
  • build up to the big jobs gradually ' gardening can increase your strength and endurance

Is all this self-preparation necessary before beginning to garden? It depends. If you will be doing heavy lifting, shoveling, or any other manual labor, it will be of help to you. If you will be kneeling or squatting repeatedly or for an extended period, it will help. If you will be doing light work for more than an hour the preparation will be of benefit.

Keep in mind that the intention is prevention. A back injury while you are gardening is just as painful and debilitating as one that occurs while you are loading pallets at work.

The next section deals with garden tool selection. Here, the advice considers both practicality and ergonomics. For example, in deciding between a stainless steel or steel blade on a shovel, the book considers the blade smoothness and durability, the shape and style of blade shoulder. The weight of the tools is not discussed although I find it a strong consideration. A heavier tool eases the work, adding its weight to your own in the downward push. However a lighter tool may be chosen because of the size of the person or because of insufficient strength to correctly and safely manage the heavier tool.

In her discussion of maintenance, the authors describe starting a power mower. Some of the tips provided.

  • Begin with your back in neutral and your shoulder blades down and in.
  • Stand with your legs in a wide stance so that you have a good base of support. One leg should be positions behind the other. Then reach for the cord of the power mower.
  • Drawing your lower stomach muscles up and in, rotate your thorax and use your oblique abdominal muscles as you pull the starter cord towards you, shifting your weight onto your back leg.

This detailed description along with the wonderful photos that show the action make the directions easy to understand and follow.

Basic complaints that gardeners often exhibit are reviewed along with their prevention and treatment. This includes basic things to consider in hand tool selection and a focus piece on tennis elbow.

Foot care and footwear are also items given some attention.

The next section deals with garden design. Primary attention is given to large gardens with more than a nod to the importance of good design in controlling the amount of upkeep required. She includes the principles of design along with descriptions of how to create an underlying structure.

As an Ergonomist, I would have preferred a stronger section on ergonomic tool design. For the most part however, the precautions and work techniques presented show great ergonomics. Overall, I strongly recommend this book for anyone looking for a problem-free gardening experience. If you don-t use all the tips, you-ll find many that you can pull into your work. Step by step you can become a more ergonomic gardener.

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