Tips for the gardeners

Gardening is a wonderful hobby.

It can bring personal joy, it brightens the yard, and is good for the environment.

If your pastime involves a vegetable garden, an added benefit is healthy food added to your diet.

Gardening can also grow into a surprisingly vigorous exercise routine.

“Working in a vegetable or flower garden each spring and summer is a great way to keep in shape as you bend, lift and flex your joints, and use most of your major muscle groups,” said Dr. Thomas Simmer, chief medical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

“But beginners as well as certified master gardeners need to be sure their bodies are ready,” Dr. Simmer said.

Pushing a lawn more or garden cart, hoeing, planting or trimming shrubbery and other chores in a garden is great exercise and research suggests that 45 minutes of gardening burns as many calories as 30 minutes of moderately strenuous aerobics.

Besides great-looking flower beds, individuals enjoy the bonuses of lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and decreased risk of other ailments that moderate exercise has been shown to promote.

To ensure that the gardening experience is a relaxing one, as well as one that will get you more fit, experts offer the following tips:

– Start your gardening as you would any exercise regimen, by stretching. Limbering up major muscle groups such as legs, shoulders arms, neck and back will help prevent pulled muscles or other injuries that could delay your planting schedule. Like any exercise, gradually work up to more vigorous activity. Balance your gardening workout by mixing strenuous work with lighter and make sure you spend at least 30 minutes at your hobby.

– When picking up heavy items, remember gardening’s No. 1 rule: Don’t bend from the waist. Bend at the knees instead. Don’t feel like you must move everything at once, lift big loads or do huge jobs that could cause injury, especially if you don’t exercise regularly.

– Use proper tools such as wheelbarrows to pick up and transport bags of topsoil, peat, shrubs or chipped wood. When moving heavy items, make “small loads often” words to plant by.

– Good tools, including quality hand cultivators and pruning scissors, will pay you back many times over with good service. Wrap handles with a stripe of fluorescent tape. You’ll spot them easier when you’re done so they won’t be hit by lawn mowers or cultivators. Thousands of injuries are caused each year nationwide by power equipment mishaps in the yard and garden. A good set of long sleeved leather gardening gloves can protect hands and forearms against splinters, thorns, poison ivy, biting and stinging insects and the general wear and tear of digging in the dirt. Wear long pants and closed shoes with good support. If you don’t have them already purchase a comfortable pair of knee pads, or a closed-cell foam gardening pad. Pads covered in latex or plastic make cleanup easy.

– Garden “putterers” with knee or other joint replacements can keep on cultivating their hobby by using wheeled toolboxes with built-in seats that allow plenty of access to the soil and keep all you need handy at the same time. Planting in raised flower beds or boxes or even in wheeled containers also offers improved access. Stand up and stretch every 10 to 15 minutes.

– Use large-brimmed hats to shade your neck against sunburn and insect repellant with sunscreen. Use anti-poison ivy lotion if you think you will be exposed. Poison ivy’s toxin is transmitted though oils present on leaves and stalk. If your skin comes into contact with a poisonous plant, wash the area immediately with cool water and soap. Wash your tools as well as clothing. Don’t burn poison ivy or poison oak, as the smoke can carry toxic oils. Use a poison ivy herbicide instead.

– If you’re not an organic farmer, read all garden chemical and pesticide label directions thoroughly and carefully before using and follow them precisely. Some are poisonous to pets, while others are harmful if inhaled or come in contact with skin for prolonged periods. Still others should not be applied before rain or on windy days. Wash exposed skin thoroughly after each use.

For more gardening tips, see page 9-A of today’s Daily News.