How Do I Take Care of My Body Today for Tomorrow?
By Diana Kiesel
There are 24-hours in a day, and we often feel like we need more. The landscaping professions’ seasonal demands will continually challenge one’s ability to balance work, family life, and social obligations, leaving little time for self-care. Let us explore how you can incorporate self-care into your daily life, particularly your work life, for a better tomorrow.
Why Warm Up?
During spring, summer, and fall, when we are at our busiest, we must be mindful and aware of our movements, posture, weaknesses, environment, and rest and recovery. Being mindful of our movements begins with a warm-up. We often associate warming up with exercise and not as preparation to perform physical work; actions such as carrying, lifting, bending, twisting, turning, and kneeling all warrant a warm-up, particularly when the action involves carrying a heavy load and repetition.
You are probably thinking, “I don’t have time to warm up before my workday begins.” If you knew that spending ten minutes or less a day to prepare your body for the physical work ahead could result in fewer injuries and less chronic pain, would you find the time?
The following warm-up exercises have been selected with your occupation in mind. They can be performed anywhere and do not involve special clothing or equipment.
A proper warm-up includes:
1.Dynamic mobility (i.e., movements that increase range of motion) These are movements such as arm swings and circles, and leg swings – forward, back, and side to side – performed with 5 to 10 repetitions of each.
2.Movement-specific preparation Think about the actions you are about to perform. Before bending, squatting, lifting, turning, and twisting with a load, prepare your body with a few exercises that mimic those actions. Three effective multi-joint exercises include:
3.Proprioceptive awareness and joint integrity Proprioception is akin to body awareness and knowing where your body is in space. Increasing your proprioception will greatly minimize imbalance issues and reduce the potential for injury. A great proprioception exercise is a lunge (forward or back) with an overhead reach. Be sure to perform equal repetitions of the lunge on each side (10 repetitions).
The lack of a warm-up or consistently poor warm-ups are often the culprits for joint pain. For optimal joint health, we must increase joint movement efficiency around the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders. Performing five to ten repetitions (in each direction) of these movements will increase the pliability around these joints:
Watch Your Posture and Position
Now that we have prepared our body for the work that is to come, we need to stay mindful of our posture. A wise instructor of mine once said, “When your bones are properly stacked, your muscles work less hard to keep them there.” When bones are out of alignment, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding the bones often become inflamed, causing discomfort. Staying mindful of your posture will help keep the bones properly aligned. Proper posture begins from the ground up.
Are your feet parallel (i.e., does the center of your ankle line up with the base of your second toe) when you walk, squat, step forward, or back? Misalignment of your feet with toes turning in or out negatively impacts your knees and hips.
When flexing your knees to squat, align your kneecaps with your second toe. The knee is a hinge joint like a hinge on a door. If the knees collapse toward one another or bow out, it creates stress on the ligaments and the knee joint. Also, avoid having the knees protrude forward beyond the toes.
When bending forward, bend from your knees and not your back. Try to maintain a straight line from the base of your neck to your tailbone. When carrying or lifting a heavy load, adopt a stable position first and keep the load close to your body with the heaviest side next to the body. Ideally, stand with one foot/leg slightly forward to maintain balance.
Most of our days are spent with our shoulders and head rounding forward. Take time to counterbalance the forward “folding” in your shoulders by rotating your palms in the direction you are facing from your shoulders. This action will help to rotate the front heads of your shoulder back. Lifting your chin parallel to the floor will alleviate the stress created in the back of your neck. Clasping your hands behind your back (illustration to the right) and slowly dropping one ear to one shoulder will release tension along the side of your neck and open your chest.
The Dangers of Muscle Overuse
Muscle weakness is made evident in a number of ways, including tiredness, reduced power, and failure to work at all. It is commonly due to lack of exercise, aging, injury, or overuse and can occur with some long-term health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.
For most in the landscaping profession, muscle weakness and injury result from overuse (aka performing the same actions repeatedly) and environment (quality of shoes, uneven terrain, heavy equipment). In any muscle injury, bleeding from damaged muscle fibers occurs inside the muscle, followed by swelling and inflammation. These injuries make the muscle less strong and painful when used. Fortunately, most cases of muscle weakness are reversible. Acknowledging and diagnosing the injury is the first step. Then identifying modifications to your daily physical routine to avoid further damage and recovery therapies is the next step.
If Necessary, Take Time to Recover
Listen to your body. No one knows your body as well as you do. Recovery refers to techniques and actions taken to maximize your body’s repair.
One of the most effective recovery therapies is getting adequate sleep. Mental and physical rest is equally important to allow your body to recover. Hydration, nutrition, posture, heat, ice, stretching, self-myofascial release (aka foam rolling), stress management, compression, and time spent standing versus sitting versus lying down are all considerations during recovery. Recovery is multifaceted and encompasses more than just muscle repair. It involves chemical and hormonal balance, nervous system repair, and mental state. Taking the time to be mindful of your body will lay the foundation for longevity in your profession.
About the Author:
Diana Kiesel is a 200-hour registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Group Exercise Instructor, and Fitness Coach. Along with her husband, she co-owned a health club and martial arts studio for over 32 years in Andover. Although her career path has changed since COVID, her passion for fitness and wellness remains.
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