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Discover the joy and benefits of gardening

National Gardening Week

A garden is a space for groups, families, and individuals to enjoy, share and grow their love of gardening. Whether you’re sowing new seeds, relaxing in your favourite green space, or taking a break to tend to your houseplants – gardening can have many positive benefits for your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

What are the health benefits of gardening?

1. Enhances emotional wellbeing

Happiness is hard to measure, but it’s usually tied to positive self-esteem and a sense of satisfaction, both of which can be greatly enhanced by gardening.

Completing a specific task, such as weeding or pruning, is very satisfying and provides a sense of control, which can be comforting. The natural rhythm of the gardening year, an awareness of the seasons, and the recycling of resources can contribute to a general sense of commitment.

2. Protects the heart

Staying active helps to protect against heart disease and strokes, and gardening is an excellent form of aerobic exercise. Although the intensity is lower than a gym workout, gardening usually lasts twice as long, and you can burn around 300-400 calories an hour when mowing the lawn or digging.

As long as an activity makes you feel warmer, breathe harder and makes your heart beat faster, activities such as gardening count towards the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly activity that the British Heart Foundation and World Health Organisation recommends for a healthy lifestyle.

3. Reduces stress

Too much stress can affect your blood pressure and compromise your immune system, but research has shown gardening to be a brilliant stress-buster, producing a drop in cortisol, the stress hormone. Having high cortisol levels can cause weight gain, brain fog and weaker bones and muscles. Read our guide to understand your cortisol levels: the good, the bad and how to reduce them.

4. Can help people live longer

Gardeners are optimistic: and always planning. A study from University College London revealed that as little as three or four minutes of short, vigorous activity bursts throughout the day were associated with a substantially lower risk of premature death from all causes compared with people who did none.

5. Supports healthier eating

If you grow your own food, you’re likely to eat a healthier diet of your home-grown produce, which can reduce the risk of diabetes and help to lower your Body Mass Index (BMI). Discover the Health and wellbeing benefits of growing your own food.

6. Top up your vitamins

Gardening is a good way to top up your vitamin D; more vitamin D means better calcium absorption, which means stronger bones – so, if you do take a tumble, it’s less likely to result in a fracture.

It is important to recognise any pain that you may associate with following any gardening activities. Below are some tips for recognising gardening injuries and how to minimise the risks.

Recognising garden injuries

Injuries aren’t always recognisable immediately, so keep an eye out for stiffness and discomfort, which can be uncomfortable to begin with, then settle and return a few days later. For example, if lower back pain starts after gardening, then it is important to continue with your normal movements and try not to alter the way you would normally move. Consider it the same as a thigh ache after a long walk; the discomfort eases after 2-3 days and then you feel normal again, but in that time you have likely not changed the way you walk or climb stairs due to the leg ache.

When gardening, you are likely to be bending and crouching down on numerous occasions, which can cause hyperflexion from the knee rolling onto the back of the knee cartilage. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it is a natural movement. However, it is important to be mindful of keeping a straight back and properly squatting down to do gardening tasks, rather than just bending over with minimal squatting or knee bending.

Other common gardening movements, such as digging, often involve lifting a heavy weight away from your centre of gravity at arm’s length, putting effort on the shorter muscles in your back. This risk increases as you get older or suffer from arthritis. Simple upper back strengthening exercises can increase tolerance of this movement/activity.

How to minimise the risk of injury

Using raised beds reduces the risk of injury by minimising the range of movement needed for tasks such as weeding and planting. Similarly, the use of a gardening stool or kneeling pad when weeding or planting reduces the pressure on your joints.

You can minimise the risk of injury by listening to your body and knowing when something isn’t right. You wouldn’t play rugby without being prepared, so don’t garden without being ready. Simple things like taking your time getting up from the ground can make a huge difference.

Five tips to avoid injury

1. Warm up

A short brisk walk around the garden, followed by some simple stretches, is good preparation for gardening.

2. Build up gradually

We’ve all been there; lots to do, and always a temptation to overdo it. Your body needs time to adapt, particularly when you get older. To get your body used to physical activity, start by tackling a small area of the garden for a short period of time and see how you get on. If there are lots of tasks to complete, try shorter bouts of gardening of approximately 10 – 20 minutes with rests in between. This will avoid burning out too quickly.

3. Your positioning

Repetitive activities can lead to injury if your technique or posture is wrong. Make sure you are comfortable doing a task – if not, stop and re-adjust. Varying jobs based on whether you need to stand, sit, crouch or bend can help you avoid putting unnecessary strain on your joints.

4. Long handled tools

Although using long-handled tools it reduces the amount that you will need to crouch, bend down, or stretch when gardening, it does also prevent you from attempting these more challenging positions. If you’re getting back into gardening, and you notice your endurance and strength increases, why not try to switch up your positions to more exertive ones? This can be achieved by using smaller handled tools.

5. If you need to, ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. If you’re trying to move something that is too heavy or pull a stubborn plant out and you struggle, you can increase the risk of injuring yourself.

Don’t let your joints hold you back

If pain is limiting your ability to kneel or enjoy your garden, our experienced team of Orthopaedic Consultants and Physiotherapists can help. Get in touch by completing our online form, contacting us via Livechat or by calling our Private Patient Team on 01580 363158.

Published on 02 May 2024