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Gardening: Put your back into it; Gardening might be back-breaking work, but you don't need to be so literal, advises Hannah Stephenson.

Byline: Hannah Stephenson

Celebrity gardener and Ground Force presenter Charlie Dimmock knows what it's like to feel aches and pains after a hard day's gardening.

But for many, backache goes hand in hand with gardening and can leave them hobbling about for weeks or lying flat on their back in an effort to ease the pain.

But there are many ways to reduce the risk of back pain if you are a keen gardener, says Charlie.

'I don't have a bad back, but if I'm down on my hands and knees for three hours hand-weeding, then when I go to stand up I have to stretch hard.

'The best thing is not to do it for three hours. Do a bit and then do something else so that you're stretching a different way rather than staying in one position all the time, which will put stress on you.'

Gardeners should spend smaller amounts of time on each job, varying the muscle groups they are working.

Many of us don't know how to lift correctly, she adds.

'I try my best to lift properly, by bending my knees and not craning. But I've been lifting for years. I started at a garden centre that sold statues and I used to go on deliveries with my boss, so he taught me how to lift properly when I was 16 or 17.

'The best thing is not to lift at all, if you can roll it or push it. If it's heavy, get two of you because it's easier to manoeuvre.

'Be aware of what you can lift. I know by feeling something whether I can lift it. I don't force myself to do it, I'll wait for someone to help me.

'When lifting, bend your knees but don't have your legs too far apart. Try to keep your back straight.'

Charlie suggests doing warming up exercises before you start, such as stretching.

'You don't have to do t'ai chi or anything in the back garden, but do something that gets you warm. Don't go straight out and double dig the vegetable patch before warming up.

'Maybe sweep the patio or rake up leaves or other gentle movements like stretching out your arms.'

Pot castors are great for moving heavy earthenware or wooden half barrels rather than lifting.

'If you are buying products, consider what you can cope with. Yes, huge terracotta pots are lovely but you can get plastic ones which look just as realistic and are ten times lighter.

'Invest in a wheelbarrow that isn't really heavy and which has pneumatic wheels which will roll over things. For instance, if you hit a step at a wrong angle, it will roll over it, whereas hard wheels can be more jarring.'

Charlie says her healthy back is also due to a good night's sleep. She advises gardeners to invest in a good bed mattress. She uses a pressure relieving Tempur mattress (details 08000 111 081

Other tips she offers include: n If you are using secateurs, make sure that if you are cutting thicker stuff you use the big loppers with long handles because you are using less muscle to cut through them.

n Check that your mower's handles are at the right height. Adjust them so that you are not stooping forward but you are standing straight. If you can geta motorised mower you don't have to push, all the better.

n Choose the right tool for the right job. Don't go for heavy equipment if you are slight. The taller you are the longer or taller the handles should be on your spades and forks. Don't bend over more than you need to.

n Pace yourself. Don't try to do it all in two days. Make a list of things to do and divide them into workable chunks spread over several days or weekends

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Gardeners need to learn how to do those essential tasks without damaging themselves
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 28, 2005
Words:659
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