Keep your green thumb in your golden years


Fresh air, movement and some light lifting can make gardening an enjoyable, effective workout for seniors — with beautiful results. But like all exercise activities, gardening presents ample opportunity for injury when done incorrectly, and seniors should be especially cautious when venturing outdoors, said Peter Norvid, a gerontologist with Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

Keep your green thumb in your golden years


Fresh air, movement and some light lifting can make gardening an enjoyable, effective workout for seniors — with beautiful results. But like all exercise activities, gardening presents ample opportunity for injury when done incorrectly, and seniors should be especially cautious when venturing outdoors, said Peter Norvid, a gerontologist with Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.


 


1. Warm up


Stretching can loosen up the joints and help keep the body limber for physical activity. A few knee bends and toe touches can go a long way, especially for those with arthritis. Most people with arthritis report that the pain is at its worst in the first few hours of the day, Norvid said. Waiting until that time has passed can make for a much better gardening experience. And before heading out, don’t forget to put on sunscreen and a hat.


 


2. Get the gear


Ergonomic tools, stools and the right pair of gloves can help ensure comfort and safety. The bionic glove — available for $29.95 on bionicglove.com — is designed with relief pads for a lighter and more secure grip so gardeners with arthritis have an easier time working outside. Stools, foam kneeling pads and handle extensions are available to help prevent injuries that often occur when one is hunched over in a flower bed.


 


3. Take breaks


Take as much time as you need to get the job done safely, Norvid said. Work no more than 30 minutes before stopping to relax and get a drink. “Even if it’s cool, you’re still losing fluids,” he said. For work like mowing the grass, Norvid recommends doing no more than 15 to 20 minutes of work before stopping. Cutting the grass today and picking up the clippings tomorrow is a good way to ensure a good, slow pace.


 


4. Set limits


It may have been easy to lift and haul a 20-pound bag of soil 20 years ago. But if doing so today makes for a rough tomorrow, don’t do it, Norvid said. If pushing a mower around the yard is too difficult, hire someone. “Most people in this age group are going to do smaller things,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”


 


5. Involve family


Getting grandchildren into gardening can prolong a senior’s involvement as well as making for a fun family activity, Norvid said. Go to a garden center to choose flowers, then direct and supervise while children do the dirty work. Or plant in pots and have a younger friend or family member carry them outdoors. “The joy of gardening is seeing what you plant,” Norvid said. “It makes you feel good just to see that you did that.”