If you have not spent much time in a garden, you may not consider this hobby can be demanding on the body. As veteran gardeners can attest, despite its peaceful nature, gardening can contribute to nagging aches and pains that can force even the most ardent green-thumb indoors.

With the warmer weather, many of us have started working on our lawns and gardens. According to the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada, gardening is the second most popular form of activity, attracting 72% of Canadian adults. (It’s second only to walking).

Thankfully, your time in the garden can be safe and enjoyable by following some simple guidelines.

1.  Warm up before you work. Treat gardening as you would exercise and ensure a proper warm up. Spend at least 5-10 minutes doing light activities such as walking to water the lawn. Incorporate arm, back and leg stretches to warm up your muscles.

2. Avoid excessive lifting and carrying. Use a cart to transport heavy items or ask for assistance. When lifting lighter items, stand close to the object with your feet comfortably apart. Lift with your legs and keep the object close to your body.

3. Alternate tasks. Repetitive-strain injuries affect gardeners who spend long periods of time performing the same activity. By alternating tasks during gardening sessions, you can reduce risk. Alternate tasks not just on muscle groups worked, but also on level of difficulty.

4. Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated. Pace yourself to combat stiffness that may not appear

until you’ve finished a session. Especially if you’re a weekend gardener, frequent breaks help alleviate strain on muscles and joints that can become overtaxed. When leaning down or working on your hands and knees, use a knee pad and rest at least every 20 minutes. It’s easy to get caught up in gardening and forget that the body needs replenishing with fluids. Drink plenty of water, especially when you’re outside in the sun.

5. Maintain good posture. Back injuries have a tendency to linger, which can keep you indoors and out of your garden. When doing activities that require bending, stooping or kneeling, vary your position for comfort. Braces designed for gardening can protect the back by providing support and make it easier to maintain good posture. Tool pouches that attach to a stool or a chair can also be less taxing on the back than wearing a gardening belt around your waist. Gardening in raised beds, planters or barrels is ideal if you want to sit while you work.

6. Use ergonomic gardening tools. Injury to the back, wrists and hands are among the most common physical problems that gardeners endure. Look for tools that reduce strain on these areas. Arthritis sufferers who love to garden may also find that ergonomic tools make it possible for them to spend more time in their gardens.

Gardening is a great way to get outdoors and get in touch with nature. However, it is important to take steps to prevent muscle strain or injury when spending time cultivating your gardens.