Why you should plant a garden this spring

One of the best aspects of spring is nature's transformation. Barren trees bud then fill out with luscious green leaves, animals who hibernated or migrated for winter reappear and flowers begin to bloom.

Now that the weather is pleasant again, you're probably itching to spend time outside. If you've never had much of a green thumb, perhaps this is year to give it a try. Check out these reasons to start your own garden and a few tips for pain-free yard work. 

"Women who garden weekly have higher bone densities."

Health benefits of gardening
Many people would be shocked to hear that tending to a garden counts as exercise. While you aren't running around the block or lifting free weights at the gym, gardening gives your whole body a workout. It's a weight-bearing exercise, since you're holding up your body weight, and it's generally non-strenuous. As a result, it's the perfect hobby for older people who want to enjoy the great outdoors and improve fitness.

A study from the University of Arkansas found a connection between gardening and slowed osteoporosis development. The research included women age 50 and above - more than half of them already had osteoporosis when the study began. Results showed that women who garden weekly have higher bone densities than women who do other physical activities. Yard work and weight lifting showed the highest bone density, while dancing, bicycling and aerobic exercises demonstrated only mildly favorable effects. Another study at Texas A&M and Texas State Universities showed that older women who garden are happier, feel younger and plan for the future, in comparison to people 65 and older who don't have a green thumb. 

In addition to these physical and emotional benefits, you can grow a range of plants to enhance your life. Consider planting vegetables or spices to bring your garden into the kitchen if you like to cook with fresh ingredients. You could also pick your favorite flowers to plant in your backyard so you're constantly surrounded by their beauty. Gardening is a great way to pass the time, allows you to become involved with your community and could even help you meet new people. Even better, think about sharing your gardening knowledge and prowess with kids or young adults. You can make a difference in their lives while enjoying some company on a sunny day.

Enjoy socializing, fresh air and exercise in the garden.Enjoy socializing, fresh air and exercise in the garden.

Tips for safe gardening
A common and valid reason older adults may have hesitations about gardening is its potential strain on their bodies. Gardeners spend a lot of time kneeling and hunched over flower beds, which can cause arthritis and other ailments to flare up. 

There are a few ways people can ensure they are comfortable while they tend to their plants, and especially when the put the shovel and gloves away for the day. Before you even head outside, take a couple of minutes to stretch. You should loosen up your back muscles, legs, arms and neck. Doing so can prevent muscle strains and a sore back. When you're in the thick of it, don't forget to switch positions and take frequent breaks. Even if you have to alternate between two different gardens, you shouldn't stay on your knees or bent over for an extended amount of time. It's a good idea to sit down and sip some water every half hour or so to be sure you don't overexert yourself. This is especially important as the days get warmer and the sun's rays grow stronger.

"Opt for raised flower beds so you can avoid kneeling."

If you're creating a garden from scratch, there are few details to consider. With a couple of adjustments to your average backyard garden, it will be even easier for you to stay injury and pain-free. Opt for raised flower beds so you can avoid kneeling. There are also vertical gardens, which are perfect for vegetables such as cucumbers and squash. You can water, prune and harvest these plants without bending down at all. Look into kneelers and small stools to keep with you when you're gardening. This way, you have alternatives to the hard ground and you'll be more comfortable as you work in the garden. There are also ergonomic gardening tools available at many hardware and plant stores, which are made specifically for people with arthritis.

When it comes to gardening, there's a wrong and a right way to move. Using certain muscles to bend and lift will give you more power and decrease the risk of straining delicate muscles, like those in your neck. To bend down and stand up, focus on your leg muscles. It may be tempting to push through your back, but your legs are likely much stronger. Lower yourself to the ground with your feet shoulder width apart and your body weight directly over your ankles. Make sure your back is straight and your core is engaged. Similarly, avoid using your back muscles when you push a wheelbarrow. For this motion, your core, arms and legs should get involved. Bend your legs slightly to lift the handle, taking care to pull up with your arms rather than your back. It's always best to play it safe - don't overload the wheelbarrow for the sake of efficiency. You'd rather make multiple trips than end up with residual pain.