Gardeners: Watch your backs

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Gardening is a passion for many, young and old. After a long winter, it's encouraging to see the first flowers come up. Bulb flowers are some of the earliest bright colors in a garden. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, lily of the valley and iris offer a tremendous amount of reward with very low maintenance: a gardener's dream.

Many people find working with the earth relaxing. It combines motion with being outdoors, getting some sunshine and fresh air. And you get the extra benefit of growing beautiful flowers and luscious vegetables.

As long as you're not trying to break speed records with your gardening, you're probably alright. Pace yourself and take breaks. Weeding is an ongoing proposition, so you have the opportunity for lots of reaching and stretching. Wear a hat to protect yourself from the sun, have water handy and stay hydrated.

According to www.aarp.org, if you've done the prep work in the fall your spring gardening will be easier. At the site, Linda Melone said gardening offers benefits such as stress reduction, increased bone density and calorie burning exercise. But you need to be in good physical condition to do the work and not hurt yourself. And you get beautiful flowers and healthy vegetables in the bargain.

According to local gardener Dr. Donald Smith, with bulb flowers you get beautiful flowers with minimal work. According to Smith, the bulbs multiply to the point where you have to divide them but other than basic weeding and watering, they pretty much take care of themselves. After cleaning out the old foliage and leaves, they are ready to produce another great season of blooms. But there's no getting around the fact that gardening takes work, he said. But, exercise is good, right?

At the YMCA, Director of Healthy Living, Christy Druffel agreed, "Gardening is wonderful exercise." But she also said that taking it gradually is the best way to get going. "Ease into it, don't go out there and be the weekend gardener," she said. "Do 15-20 minutes down and then 15-20 minutes standing." Don't spend two hours bent over pulling weeds, for example. Mix it up a little.

"We have people coming in asking about gardening but their form is so bad. They bend down and pull with a bent back, then they get a lot of low back, upper back and neck pain. You can get things that are ergonomically designed to help you. They have gardening pads for your knees and a short bench so you're actually sitting down," Druffel said.

"Make sure you have a healthy back before you start. Instead of spending two hours on your knees, weed for 15 minutes then stand up and rake for 15 minutes. Do a proper warm up, such as a short walk, do your gardening and do your stretching afterward when your muscles are more pliable," she said. "Do the parts you can do and hire out the things you can't." Enjoy your gardening but be sensible about it.

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