Aging and gardening may not always seem compatible. I know that all those beds I prepared and tended 20 years ago now can be a bit overwhelming. I certainly don't want to quit gardening. There are so many benefits, physical and psychological, associated with being an active gardener. It is a moderate form of exercise, offers visual and sensory stimulation as well as spiritual and social connectedness.
The first thing to consider is to know your limits. Walking, bending, lifting and other physical tasks need to be tackled slowly to avoid injury. Listen to your body. If you feel fatigue, take a rest. Monitor your heart rate and slow down if need be. Of course, the old adage always applies, if it hurts don't do it.
Take care of yourself. Dress appropriately, wear sunscreen and a hat. Work in the cooler part of the day and stay hydrated. Make sure your tetanus-diptheria vaccine is up to date in case you scratch yourself or get a puncture wound while working in the soil. You certainly don't want to risk tetanus exposure.
There are two things that the aging gardener can do: Adapt the garden and adapt the gardener. Adapting the garden means trying raised beds and hanging baskets or large pots to plant both flowers and vegetables. There is less bending associated with those modifications. I have an old mailbox on a post in my garden where I keep tools and other supplies. It means less running back and forth to the garage to get things I might need. Also, it is very important to have benches or other seating in the garden where you can take a rest and cool off. Try considering low maintenance plants that don't need division often and can make it on their own without a lot of pampering.
In adapting the gardener, the first thing to consider would be your tools. Grip strength may be weakened by arthritis or other diseases. Pruners should be sized to fit your hand. Make sure you can fit your hand around the handles when it is wide open. Make an OK sign and that should be the minimum diameter of your tool handles. You can enlarge handles by applying foam rubber and taping it in place. Use a fist grip on a trowel and pull toward you to dig. This uses the large arm muscles instead of the hand and wrist. Gloves that are flexible and close fitting are a better choice than leather. The stiffness of the leather requires more strength to close your hand. Choose tools with longer handles; this allows you to remain more upright and saves the back when hoeing.
When working on your hands and knees, put a knee up to take stress off the back. Carry items close to the body, use the large thigh muscles to lift and tote. There are also garden scooters available that allow you to sit and move along as you work in your beds.
These are a few adaptations that can be done very simply to make gardening a little easier. It is important to keep active as we age and working in the garden is one of the best activities to do.
Click on "Yard and Garden at the University of Minnesota Extension website, www.extension.umn.edu, for gardening information. Local Master Gardeners will respond to your questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916, leaving your name, number and question. You can also find Beltrami County Master Gardeners on Facebook.