Many older adults face a frustrating paradox:
They have a lot of free time to pursue their hobbies and interests—but they struggle with painful chronic health conditions like arthritis that make these hobbies difficult to do!
Gardening is a prime example. It’s good for your mental well-being,1 and can be a fun, rewarding way to stay active. But, if you have chronic hip pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, foot pain, or ankle pain getting down in the dirt can seem nearly impossible.
Check out these strategies that might help keep your green thumb in good working order.
1. Use adaptive tools. Many people find that trowels, shovels, and other gardening tools made with large, ergonomically-shaped handles are easier to use. Other devices that can minimize strain on your joints and improve your body mechanics include:
2. Get your loved ones involved. There's nothing wrong with asking for help. Getting your family members or friends involved in gardening activities also creates a great chance to bond. Recruit loved ones who can help you with tasks that are harder for you, like carrying large loads, digging, and watering.
Depending on where you live, it may even make sense to join a community gardening group so you'll be around more people who can provide a helping hand.
3. Start with potted plants. If a full-sized garden plot is overwhelming, start smaller by cultivating potted plants on your deck, patio, or even inside your home. Fresh produce like basil, tomatoes, herbs, and flowers do well in pots and require a lot less heavy lifting. Plus, you can place these items on waist-level surfaces like tables for easier access.
4. Take breaks. It's great to get into a groove, but you should always break up your gardening activities with periods of rest. This may help you avoid the risk of pain and soft tissue strains that can happen because of repetitive movements or sustained awkward positions.
Aim for a short break at least once to twice per hour while gardening—try stretching or relaxing in a comfortable chair.
5. Keep a water bottle handy. Your plants aren't the only ones that need plenty of water! Staying well-hydrated is important for joint health because it can improve circulation and reduce joint stiffness.2-3 Drinking enough water during gardening time can also prevent lightheadedness and dizziness which sometimes happen when people change positions and stand up too quickly.
So, make sure to pack a water bottle in your gardening supplies, especially on hot and sunny days. You'll know you're drinking enough water if your urine is a light-straw, or lemonade, color.4-5
6. Manage your everyday health. Chronic health problems affect more than just your gardening skills. No matter what your hobbies and interests are, be sure to stay on top of your overall health by following your doctor's advice, getting good quality sleep, and eating a healthy diet.
It is possible for many people to grow a garden (and enjoy yourself while doing so) even if you're living with arthritis or some other chronic pain condition. Sometimes all it takes are a few simple adjustments to the way you tend to your plants!