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Savvy Senior: Tips to keep older gardeners from growing sore

Dear Savvy Senior: What gardening tips can you offer to older seniors? I love to work in the garden, but my back and knees have curtailed my gardening activities. — Older Gardener

Dear Older Gardener: Gardening can be hard on an aging body. Joints stiffen up, kneeling for prolonged periods hurts, and bending and reaching can strain muscles. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up your hobby. You just need to garden differently, add some special tools and know your limits. Here are some tips that may help.

Limber up

With gardening, good form is very important as well as not overdoing any one activity. A common problem is that gardeners often kneel or squat, putting extra pressure on their knees. Then, to spare their knees, they might stand and bend over for long stretches to weed, dig and plant, straining their back.

To help protect your body, you need to warm up first. Start by stretching, focusing on the legs and lower back. And keep changing positions and activities. Don’t spend hours weeding a flowerbed. After 15 minutes of weeding, you should stand up, stretch and switch to another activity like pruning the bushes or just take a break.

It’s also important that you recognize your physical limitations and don’t try to do too much all at once. And, when lifting heavier objects, remember to use your legs to preserve your back.

Get better tools

The right equipment can help. Kneeling pads can protect knees, and garden seats or stools are back and knee savers. Lightweight garden carts can make hauling bags of mulch, dirt, plants or other heavy objects much easier. And long-handled gardening and weeding tools can help ease strain on the back by keeping you upright rather than bent over.

There are also ergonomic gardening and pruning tools with fatter handles and other design features that can make lawn and garden activities easier. Fiskars and Felco make a number of specialty tools that you can buy online or at local retail stores that sell lawn and garden supplies.

Make watering easier

The chore of carrying water or handling a heavy, awkward hose can also be difficult. Some helpful options include lightweight fabric or expandable hoses instead of heavy rubber hoses, soaker or drip hoses that can be snaked throughout the garden, thin coil hoses that can be used on the patio or small areas or a hose caddy and reel for easier transport around the yard. There are also a variety of ergonomic watering wands for those hard-to-reach plants.

Bring the garden to you

If your backyard garden has become too much to handle, you should consider elevated garden beds or container gardening — using big pots, window boxes, hanging baskets, barrels or tub planters. This is a much easier way to garden because it eliminates much of the bend and strain of gardening but still provides the pleasure of making things grow.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.

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