Well, it’s that time of year again… spring. For many of us in the Midwest, this is when we emerge from a hibernation-like state. I get to see my neighbors again, after months of all of us seemingly holed up in our homes. It’s a time when many go from being completely sedentary to full-on weekend warrior.
I am often asked if there is a busier time in my practice during the year. While it is pretty steady year round, there is one time of year that there is a notable spike in patient visits. That time… the first week after the first really warm weekend. Why is that? Well, it’s a time when many venture out into their yards to tackle that spring clean-up.
It is important to note that the work that is done in the yard is mostly REALLY good for the body. Humans are meant to bend, twist, lift, rake, and shovel. These natural movements engage the muscles, move the joints, stretch the tendons and ligaments, get the heart pumping, and stimulate blood flow. These are all so good for the body. The problem is that most go from having done none of that, to doing A LOT of it.
In those couple of nice days on that first sunny weekend, people flock to the garden centers, Home Depot, or Lowes, get what they need to make their yards presentable, then head home and try to get it all done as fast as possible. The body says… Whoa! What the heck are you doing? I haven’t moved like this in four months, and now you are going to make me move, lift, and bend like this?
The result is punishment. Muscles get sore, joints get stiff, and we hurt all over. Just getting out of bed the next day is a task. We question whether or not we did the right thing. Whether we should have done all that work. Or if we should ever do that kind of work. The answer is YES!
Two issues affect aches and pains that come from doing outside work in the spring. The first is that you did too little all winter. We tend to make excuses to justify less-than-stellar lifestyle choices. Low temperatures and snow are two great reasons to stay inside, eat too much, and avoid working out. At this point, you can’t do much about that. So keep that in mind next winter. Don’t be so inactive, get outside, lift, bend, twist, and stay fit.
The second issue, and the one that you can have an effect on now, is how you behave as you venture out this spring. Many doctors will tell you NOT to do the physical yard work, to avoid golfing, or to take it easy. This is the WORST advice! You need to either use it… or lose it. Your body NEEDS the physical activity, the sunlight, and the fresh air. Flexing your muscles, bending your joints, and breaking a sweat is essential to optimizing your health.
The key is to go at an appropriate pace. Do the work, just don’t overdo it. Instead of going eight hours straight, either break it up into two hour stints, or only do four hours total. Instead of trying to lift those rocks by yourself, get help from family or a neighbor. Instead of golfing 18 holes, maybe golf 9 holes those first few times out. Instead of hitting a large bucket of balls at the range, hit a small bucket. Maybe play one or two games of pickleball, not ten. Push your body, just don’t destroy it.
Another thing to keep in mind is to stay hydrated. Many spring and early summertime emergency room visits are simply due to dehydration, the easiest thing to avoid. Protect your skin from too much sun with long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat. Remember that you want some sun, but you don’t want to get burned. And try to enjoy the process. It feels good to accomplish tasks around the house. Take pride in successfully getting your yard in shape, and feel good about being able to be so active.
Oh, and you might be sore. No big deal! Using muscles that haven’t been used in a while, or using them more than they are used to being used, will result in soreness. The only way to build muscle is to break what you have down. The only way to build bone is stress the bone you already have. That often results in mild to moderate soreness. It is temporary. And your body will thank you later.
Go on… get outside. Be active. Bend. Lift. Twist. Golf. Play. Have fun! This is life. And your body is meant to go, do, and see. Just be a little smarter about it.