Tuesday, March 1, 2011

With the season upon us

There are many benefits that we all derive from growing both flowers and vegetables in our own gardens.
I love coming home from work and seeing how beautiful the flowers in my front yard are growing. Then I go to the back yard and there is nothing like a home-grown tomato for the salads that I truly enjoy.
Yet, I've learned that everything has positive and negative attributes. Many seniors hurt their backs, necks, or knees due to gardening. So allow me to give you a little anatomical understanding of certain spinal weaknesses I've seen in seniors in my 29 years in practice.
Then we could understand the dos and don'ts of gardening.
A normal aging process in all of us is for our spine to compress due to gravity and our discs get thinner, dryer, and weaker. Remember, we have 25 discs in our spine, they are between the vertebra, and like wet sponges, they act as shock absorbers.
The spine curves backwards in our neck and lower back, yet it curves forward between our shoulders. This curve gives stability to our core, so all of our muscles will function better with a strong cover. Our goal in life is to keep the weight down to not compress the discs even further.
Another goal is to keep the discs from drying out, so I advise 2-3 capsules of Omega III vitamins daily.
In gardening specifically, with the above information, we need to help the body maintain its normal curves.
For example, if we kneel to plant, as we bend over, we force the neck to look down and the waist to bend forward.
Both activities will compress the disc, so we should take breaks often to walk around and let our discs and muscles relax so they won't be strained. In the middle of a disc is a jelly-bean size ball of jelly.
Many seniors have bulging discs or herniated discs, this means the middle ball of jelly has bulged to the side or even ruptured open and pushes against spinal nerves.
So any senior whose MRI reveals they have disc bulges or herniations, they should not garden, in my opinion. They should go to the farmer's market and by fresh vegetables. It isn't worth planting for two hours and hurting for two weeks.
Many seniors have arthritis in their knees, so they can't kneel but they bend from the waist which will compress their lumbar discs even more.
I advise to buy a stool where you could sit to plant, yet it has a bar to help you get up. Many seniors have thin skin, so they should always wear gloves to garden.
With blood thinners, they should protect their skin with long sleeves, long pants, a hat and sunscreen for their neck, face, and ears.
It is important to drink lots of fluid, preferably water or lemonade or Gatorade but not ice tea which will drain your fluids or caffeine which could raise your blood pressure like colas or coffee.
Here would be the ideal picture. You have your grandson dig up the ground and add peat moss or fertilizer, because those bags could weigh 50 pounds or buy a tiller, loosening the soil is repetitive work, and remember our explanation of discs, you don't want to be bent over too long. Most people need to install a fence to keep out rabbits or deer, decide if your grandchild should do that or if you can.
I remember as a kid, we would collect the rainwater in 50 gallon garbage cans by the rain gutter and use that "natural" water to water the plants during dry spells. i do believe rain water has less additives and chlorine than tap water.
Plant the plants gradually, make some rows, put in the seeds, cover them up, while standing up to stretch and relax your muscles.
Moderate activity is good for osteoporosis, it will keep you bones stronger and the vegetables will help you with calcium intake.

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