June 23rd, 2018

To Your Health: A green thumb can improve life expectancy

By Gillian Slade on April 10, 2017.

It’s the time of year when we feel the urge to rake the lawn, dig compost into a flower bed and get down on our hands and knees to see the perennials that are coming to life after a long cold winter.

In fact enjoyment of gardening may contribute to longevity, according to a U.S. study that found a link between gardeners and life expectancy. People living in a concrete urban environment had a 12-per-cent higher death rate than those with a garden or easy access to green spaces. Mental health was also measured in the study and those enjoying a garden-like environment and/or participating in tending a garden had improved mental well-being. The positive mental health benefits of observing nature, birds, insects and wildlife are huge. It encourages people to go outside, reduces a sense of isolation and can lift depression. It can transport you to another world taking your focus off your personal issues even if it is only for a little while.

If you are planning some serious gardening and it is good to be reminded about avoiding sore backs and aching knees.

Most of us don’t consider gardening physical exercise. After all it is generally pleasure that propels us into the garden and we soon lose track of time or how much exercise we have done until it is all over.

The limbs we will have used in our exuberance can strain muscles all over the body, not least your back.

There are some protective measures you can take.

Get as close to your work as you can. Reaching far means the muscles in your back will be working extra hard.

If you are on your knees, to do some weeding, planting of summer bulbs, or to plant perennials, don’t reach too far and instead reposition yourself. It is reaching further than normal that often affects the lower back in a negative way. Instead of twisting at your waist to reach a different area it is better to reposition your feet and your back will thank you.

If you should become aware of discomfort or a twinge in your back it is important to stop what you are doing and take a break. This may be a good time to wrap an icepack in a cloth and apply it to the sore area of your back while you take a rest.

Don’t spend too long on your knees at any one time. Do a little kneeling, change to another task that requires standing. After about 15 minutes sit in a chair and relax for a while before going back to that kneeling position.

Once you have started your gardening it is easy to forget the time until your body is complaining. It is a good idea to take the kitchen timer outside with you and set it for 30 minutes and then take a break. Sit in a comfortable chair with a cold drink, large glass of water, or cup of tea and perhaps a book or magazine. Then return to gardening for another 30 minutes.

If there is a lot of digging to do it may be worth hiring someone to do it for you. This would apply if you have trees that need to be carefully pruned. A professional pruning job is often worth the cost. If you only have one branch to cut because it is damaged don’t go climbing on a ladder without someone being with you.

Here’s to happy times taking in the beauty of green spaces all around us and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her by email on call 403-528-8635.

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One Response to “To Your Health: A green thumb can improve life expectancy”

  1. […] out and having easy access to a garden in the city is good for the mental health.  Furthermore, health studies show that gardening and being in nature promotes longevity and mental […]

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