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Published: Sunday, July 29, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

5 tips for gardening as you age

Brian Nitta has a question he always asks his patient's at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
"Garden much?"
Nitta works as an occupational therapist. His patients suffer from arthritis. They have had strokes or are coping with multiple sclerosis. Many are entering a phase of life where old pastimes don't come as easily.
He often offers these gardening tips, noting that some of the simple steps don't only apply to patients.
"I use them," he said. "It makes it a lot easier and you can use it as a preventative thing, to prevent back injuries."
Warm up
Nitta tells gardeners to take a stroll around the yard or walk through the garden a couple times before pulling a single weed. Then, do some stretches -- roll those shoulders a few times.
"It warms up the tissue, loosens up the joints," he said. "Think of yourself as an athlete preparing for a game."
Arm yourself
Depending on the gardener's health, different tools are handy, Nitta said.
Have a bad back? Get some long-handled shears and hoes to prevent the need to bend.
Trouble with arthritis? Try a pair of ratcheted clippers, which require less force to squeeze when cutting back branches.
Most tools are readily available in hardware and gardening stores. They're also affordable -- ratcheted clippers cost about $10 online.
"I always think the best resource is getting on the Internet," Nitta said.
Steady as she goes
Nitta encourages some patients to rework the very ground they walk on. Patients unsteady on their feet shouldn't put themselves in harm's way.
"You don't want anything too muddy or slippery," he said. "You don't want to risk the chance of falling."
He suggests putting down small gravel to turn dirt into a stable surface.
Raise the raised beds
To avoid excessive bending, Nitta also tells some patients to look into using waist-high raised beds.
While those can be built, that can prove to be a tricky task. Commercial options are available, but often cost more than $100.
If that strains the bank account, gardeners can consider using pots and planters for flowers and vegetables.
"They don't cost quite as much," he said.
Don't stay down
Gardening often requires hunching over for hours on end, and loads of repetitive motion: So many weeds, so little time.
Gardeners who suffer from a bad back or arthritis should avoid aggravating their conditions by making frequent position changes, Nitta said. One simple way to do that: Use a small bucket for weeding.
"Once the bucket gets full, they're forced to get up and empty that," Nitta said.
Story tags » Preventative medicineGardeningSenior activitiesWellness

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