Dr. Fred Winter
Keeping your garden beautiful is a good way to stay fit and have a labor you really enjoy. Hopefully, reading this will help you stay healthy in the process.
Doing something creative using moderate exercise can be a healthy balance both physically and mentally. And, as some of you know, staying active adds a lot to old age. But it's good to start young and grow up with your plants and keep going. As a good friend, 96 years of age, says, the reason he has outlived so many is because they stopped mowing their lawns but he hasn't. Also, meditation in your garden can calm the mind after a hard day at the office or at home. Other healthy bonuses of horticulture are the opportunities to make many good friends, sharing ideas and plants and learning about the many gifts of Mother Nature. Also, we can do a lot to improve the beauty of our environment. Creating new hybrids can give a lot of satisfaction too. And a good night's sleep can be a healthy bonus.
So keep enjoying the garden and all the work involved. We, of course, need to stay well and should be aware of some precautionary measures to be discussed below.
It is interesting to know, according to our educators, that garden work in moderation can burn more calories than a moderate amount of walking and can help keep your heart healthy and avoid Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.
All gardeners should be aware of injury risks and especially certain pest related diseases. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever have been around for most of the last century. The Lyme tick bite often looks on the skin like a red bull's eye, but not always. Prompt recognition and suspected diagnosis are a must with follow-up antibiotic treatment. Diagnosis can be easily missed because symptoms are often variable. Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, commonly known as "rabbit fever," also from bites, require prompt and similar treatment.
West Nile virus has been around for about eight years as the result of infected mosquitoes and can be fatal (if not treated promptly).
Bee stings can produce a serious reaction, allergic anaphylaxis, often causing throat swelling, hives, very severe itching and even swelling throughout the body, a medical emergency! The patient should also consult an allergist.
Another threat, the tetanus bacterium in soil, can cause significant garden and farm tetanus related injuries. Sometimes transmitted by animal bites, the bacterium in soil may be spread on wounds and cuts while gardening. Be sure to get your tetanus vaccination at least every ten years.
As many gardeners do, we often use an insect repellent such as Deet 25%. However, the Chicago based Safer Pest Control Project recommends using citronella repellents rather than chemicals on children. Therefore, we should carefully heed instructions when using pesticides and chemical sprays for weeds, poison ivy and brush to protect the eyes and avoid inhalation.
We gardeners need to be careful to avoid tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome from too energetic pruning. Tools with gears and levers reduce the effort and grooved handles on clippers and little hand rakes may give some relief.
Stepping into woodchuck holes, slipping on rocks and wet spots can claim their share of our fractures. Pruning a tree on an improperly balanced ladder is asking for trouble! Bending over to weed is often a back problem but, as you probably know, a pad to kneel on or a stool helps. Remember to wear something to protect those ears from your tractor noise and use the broad-brimmed hat and sun block lotion to avoid skin cancers.
Long sleeves and trousers may be too hot to wear, but light garden gloves can also be a valuable protection. With global warming and unusually hot summers, one should also keep in mind the dangers of heat stroke.
By avoiding the health hazards of gardening, think of the money you can save on stress tests and other medical bills! Also, as you live longer, there may be more new beneficial cures for back and other medical problems.
Although not particularly a health issue, the size of your garden can be a problem as you get older or when you try to sell the house and prospective buyers may find it too big to care for. Another particularly upsetting frustration is the deer problem. My rhododendrons were being trashed so I had to give up my desire to buy a pick-up truck and instead put up a half mile of 10½-foot-high fence! Fortunately, it worked and I've regained a healthy optimism to keep gardening.
So obey your limitations and keep risks and precautions in mind. Eat well, have sensible exercise, drink plenty of water and take necessary nutritional supplements and you should keep going for many more years.
Dr. Winter practiced Radiology for fifty years and has continued gardening in his retirement. As a member of the Valley Forge Chapter ARS, he has had the opportunities to be president of the chapter and District Director. He has been given the Bronze Medal by his chapter. He also maintains associate membership in the Philadelphia Chapter ARS.