Back Pain - The Energy Coach

Why Gardening is Both Good and Bad For Our Health


Why Gardening is Both Good and Bad For Our Health

Around this time every year, I get a lot of complaints from my clients with bad backs and acute injuries which put them out of action for a few days and even a few weeks. And it’s not my training sessions that cause these problems, it’s gardening.

This past month alone I’ve had three clients with gardening-related injuries. One client popped a rib out of alignment from mowing the lawn all day, another caused their vulnerable lower back ‘to go’ from weeding all afternoon and the third pulled their back from turning the soil for hours in their allotment.

These problems occur due to a lack of conditioning the body for the work involved and/or poor gardening technique that puts the body into a compromised position for a long period of time or a large number of repetitive actions.

If I were to ask someone to walk Ben Nevis, Snowdonia and Scarfel Pike back to back in one day, most would be able to do it just about. But with a few niggles, injuries, sores and a feeling incredibly worn out for the next week. But if I gave them 3 months’ warning to prepare for the challenge, I am sure they would be able to complete all three mountains with far fewer niggles, sore muscles and injuries. And that’s because they will have conditioned their body to the challenge by training.

So it would be common sense to apply the same preparation before embarking on a weekend of gardening. And we can do this by exposing the body to smaller chunks of gardening over a longer period of time.

TIP: Spread the load.

Instead of saving all your gardening jobs for one or two long days, schedule in shorter periods of time over a longer duration, for example, 30 minutes of gardening every weekday evening. This doesn’t overload your body and gives it time to rest, recover and adapt to the gardening labour.

Unfortunately for our bodies and especially our lower backs gardening involves doing things to the ground which inevitably can cause us to fall into a bad, compromised posture, like being stooped or hunched and bending and twisting. Those movements over a long period of time are a recipe for a back catastrophe.

TIP: Don’t be lazy, use the correct form.

Pick up using the legs, bending at the knee with your back upright. Weed kneeling down. Use the right tools for the job. Check out this entertaining YouTube video showing you how to correctly dig – How to REALLY Use a Shovel | proper technique = no back pain! And there are many other videos showing you the correct form for the other chores in the garden.

Gardening has so many benefits that far outweigh the possible risks and if we minimise those risks then we’re onto a real winner.

Benefits of gardening:

  • Being outdoors is great for our morale and self-esteem.
  • Exposure to sunshine provides lots of essential vitamin D.
  • Connection with nature helps ease stress and anxiety.
  • Gardening is a mindful exercise and mindfulness is great for our well-being.
  • Physical exercise like gardening strengthens the muscles, burns excess energy stores (body fat), improves mood, sleep and stress levels, and exercises the heart.
  • You get a great sense of accomplishment through seeing the fruits of your labour.
  • Home-grown food is great for the environment and our bodies.
  • A garden kept in the right way provides a habitat for wildlife to flourish.

Be sensible and use common sense when deciding to venture outside and make the most of your garden and you’ll reap all the benefits and greatly reduce the risk of injury.

Matt Jordan – the Energy Coach