'Gardener's back'

Katharine Green
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If there is any week in the yearly calendar to get gardening, then this is surely it. This week sees the highlight of the horticultural calendar with the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The picture opposite shows the Chatsworth garden which is the 2015 winner of Best in Show. The show has been running for nearly 150 years and every year reveals exciting new trends and designs.

As we all know working in the garden is an all-round health booster, taking in fresh air and sunshine, whilst the physical action of weeding, raking, digging and lifting increase stamina, build muscle tone and burn calories. Yet only too often gardeners complain of aches and pains because their bodies are put under strain by all the bending, lifting and twisting that gardening involves. Most noticeably, however hard one tries to avoid it, there is the temptation to be ‘bent double’ whilst gardening.

Looking after oneself is key to good garden health. There are ways to try and avoid strain or injury, like using tools that don’t strain your back: a hosepipe instead of a watering can, transporting heavy tools by wheelbarrow or using long handled tools. But just like any form of exercise, gardening can be an intense workout and in order to prevent stiffness and reduce muscle tension it is worth doing some easy stretching before you start. Here are 3 simple stretches:

For your NECK, tilt your head forwards and tuck your chin in and hold, then lift you head and tilt your ear towards one shoulder whilst extending the opposite hand down and reach for the floor. Repeat on both sides.

For your SHOULDERS, hold your elbow with your opposite hand and pull it across your chest until you feel a gentle stretch at the back of your arm. Repeat on the other side. Then, put your hands behind your head and put your elbows back and you will feel the stretch in the front of your shoulders.

For the LOWER BACK, stand placing your hands on your hips and bend backwards until you feel a stretch. Stand up straight again, then clasp your hands above your head and lean over one side until you feel the stretch, trying to lengthen your spine as much as possible. Repeat on the other side.

However much we prepare our bodies for gardening there is no denying that we can feel it afterwards. This is why we cannot recommend Nordic walking enough. It is a fantastic way of stretching and lengthening out the spine after gardening. The action of planting your poles behind you keeps your posture upright and your chest open. The technique, which includes rotating your upper body, strengthens the mid back area, releasing tension in your neck and shoulders, whilst optimising the fluids and oxygen to your spine.

After Nordic walking remember to stretch out the back, our favourite stretch is to place your poles vertically out in front of you, then walk backwards away from them, bending at the waist so your body is at right angles to your legs. Hang your head down between your shoulders, remembering soft knees and placing your weight in your toes not your heels.

Relaxing in a hot bath might be the icing on the cake.

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