Samantha Duncan of Health Hub. Photo provided
Spring is finally here (fingers crossed!), and with longer days and warmer weather, our minds turn to gardening, hiking, cycling, and playing outside. Over the past week I've had clients and class members come in with stiff lower backs and sore hamstrings and shoulders, so I decided to write about how to get ready to get outdoors!
Whether it is gardening or general yard cleanup and maintenance, hiking, cycling, playing with kids and grandkids, getting outside and moving often requires activation of muscles that haven't been used much for a few months. It's important to get your body ready for these new activities, because it is easy to jump right in and overdo it.
To avoid setbacks and injury, try some of these basic strengthening, balance and agility exercises. Before getting started with any activity, do a few dynamic stretches such as knee raises, shoulder rolls, and straight leg raises. As you work or play, keep your core muscles engaged and take a break every 15-30 minutes to stretch your back and legs. After you finish, spend several minutes doing static stretches, such as forward fold, sphinx pose, cat/cow, holding each stretch for 10-15 seconds All these exercises can be found online, and you will find links to supporting articles.
Gardening & yard work
Warm up and stretch your low back and hamstrings for bending and pulling (i.e. weeding, planting). Move through stretches and strengthening exercises such as cat/cow, bird dog, forward fold, and spinal rotations to loosen the muscles in the backs of the legs and around the spine.
Strengthen your shoulders, back, and side muscles for digging, hoeing, and raking with exercises such as pushups, superman, bent over row, and Russian twists. Squats, plank holds, and other core exercises will help with pushing wheelbarrow loads.
Don't forget about your hands and wrists! Work on grip strength and stretch out your wrists and forearms after weeding, mowing, or other related activities.
Hiking & cycling
The most important things to keep in mind for these activities is to start slow. Strengthening the muscles around your hips, knees and ankles will help with stability and protect the joints. Core-strengthening exercises will improve posture and protect the muscles in your lower back. Take shorter hikes or rides on relatively flat, even surfaces, building up your distance and intensity gradually. This will help prevent sore muscles and joint pain, which can easily discourage future activity. Make sure you have proper footwear and remember to hydrate.
There's no better place to get ready for the playground than the playground itself! Take advantage of the structures to strengthen your shoulders and lats (monkey bars, keeping your feet on the ground), and benches and curbs for push-ups, triceps dips, and step ups. Bring along a soccer ball, hula hoop, jump rope, frisbee, or whatever you have handy, and start playing! You'll improve muscular strength and endurance along with balance and hand-eye coordination and it won't even seem like work.
With these simple tips, you'll be able to enjoy the beauty and bounty of the Pacific Northwest summer to the fullest. For more fitness ideas, please contact the Health Hub and we can get you moving in the right direction!