The sensation of your hands in the earth, sowing seeds and watching them grow appeals to people of all ages and abilities.
Recreational gardening is a favorite pastime among retirees, but as we age, changes in vision, balance, and overall health create a greater risk for falls, injuries and heat exhaustion.
Terry Garner, a senior public health investigator with the Department of Health and Human Services, works with gardeners young and old in the city’s community garden programs.
“Gardening is a great means of exercise and relaxation, but you have to work smart,” Garner said. “There are the obvious safety precautions like working early in the morning when it’s not too hot, wearing hats, gloves and protective clothing. But there are also ways to work outdoors while being kinder to your body.
“Our community gardens use raised beds that keep you from bending over or kneeling on your knees too much,” Garner said. “It’s also important to be aware of your surroundings and store your tools properly so you don’t trip over an upturned rake or hand tool.”
Get the most out of your gardening experience by keeping these basic safety tips in mind:
Prevent falls by clearing outdoor walking paths and sidewalks. Invite a friend, neighbor or relative to help you assess your yard for roots, uneven ground and loose steps. A second set of eyes can help find obstructions you missed.
Make sure you have adequate and functional outdoor lighting.
Stretch and warm up your muscles before working in the garden in the morning. This can help prevent knee and back strain.
Time your gardening sessions. Know your limits. Don’t ignore your body’s warning signs. Don’t do too much too fast or for too long. Seniors, overweight people, the physically ill, or those who will take certain medications for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
Make your garden tools more visible to those with declining vision by painting the handles a bright color.
Use long-handled, curved and adaptive garden tools, hoses and equipment recommended by the Arthritis Foundation.
Plant pots at waist level on a bench instead of in the ground.
Use a wagon with larger wheels instead of a wheelbarrow to move heavy plants, dirt and tools.
Consider planting a vertical garden or trellis to reduce bending and kneeling.
Carry a cell phone, medical alert button or other device outside with you at all times.
Get a tetanus/diphtheria (Td) vaccination every 10 years. Tetanus can be caused if infected soil enters the body through an open wound. Because gardeners use sharp tools, dig in the dirt, and handle plants with sharp points, they are particularly prone to tetanus infections.