From avoiding a cricked back to swarms of insects to…we reveal a guide to being a healthy gardener
Research has linked being green-fingered to everything from higher vitamin D levels to lower blood pressure.
And last month, a study in the journal Neurology listed gardening as one of a handful of activities that could lower the risk of dementia in old age.
This is thought to be down to the combination of physical and mental stimulation it provides.
But being out in the garden makes us vulnerable to a host of health hazards, from back injuries to skin problems.
Here doctors review a selection of products that could help protect gardeners — we then rated them.
A study in the journal Neurology listed gardening as one of a handful of activities that could lower the risk of dementia in old age (file photo)
CLAIM: This steel wheelbarrow has three wheels, said to evenly distribute the weight, which means less pressure on the arms and shoulders when you push it along. It also has a foot-operated catch, which you press to tip out the load.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘A standard wheelbarrow has one front wheel, which means your arms, shoulders and back have to take most of the weight when pushing it along,’ says Rajiv Bajekal, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Barnet Hospital in London and Total Orthopaedics group of clinics.
This steel wheelbarrow has three wheels, said to evenly distribute the weight, which means less pressure on the arms and shoulders
‘They also require a fair amount of strength and effort to tip up and empty, which can cause strain in any of the muscles along the spine — a common cause of back pain.
‘I’m impressed with the clever design of this wheelbarrow, which means you don’t need to strain to lift it; and the foot-operated tipping mechanism should go a long way to reducing your risk of neck, shoulder and back problems. Worth trying if you are a keen gardener.’ 9/10
BENCHMARK’S DERMA SHIELD AEROSOL
50ml, £7.55, dermashield.co.uk
Moisturising mousse contains palmitic acid and aloe vera, said to form a waterproof shield on the skin
CLAIM: This moisturising mousse contains palmitic acid and aloe vera, said to form a waterproof shield on the skin and prevent contact dermatitis — the red, itchy rash caused by touching something that irritates skin. Apply a thin layer twice daily.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Soil, fertilisers and some plants are irritants that can cause inflammation in the top layers of the skin, triggering dermatitis or eczema,’ says Dr Anton Alexandroff, a consultant dermatologist at BMI The Manor Hospital in Bedford.
‘Aloe vera has a moisturising effect and palmitic acid can strengthen the skin barrier — the outermost layer of the skin. But this effect wouldn’t be strong enough to prevent a reaction; only wearing gloves can do that.’ 4/10
WANDERLUST SUN VISOR WITH SPF50
CLAIM: This cotton hat promises to block 98 per cent of harmful rays, which the maker says is equivalent to wearing SPF50. Can be worn as a cap, or as a visor by unzipping the top section.
This cotton hat promises to block 98 per cent of harmful rays
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘The ears, hairline and neck are all hot spots for the two most common types of skin cancer — squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma — yet many people forget to protect these areas when gardening,’ says Dr Alexandroff. ‘But even 30 minutes of unprotected exposure to sunlight increases your risk. It’s vital that gardeners protect their heads from the sun’s harmful rays and this hat is a decent choice, giving good coverage with a wide brim that covers much of the face.
‘I wouldn’t advise wearing this as a visor as it’s important to protect the scalp — and you would still need to wear suncreen.
‘Any wide-brimmed hat would do the job.’ 6/10
SMIDGE INSECT REPELLENT
This spray contains picaridin — an insect repellent — that provides protection for up to eight hours
75ml, £7, amazon.co.uk
CLAIM: This spray contains picaridin — an insect repellent — that provides protection for up to eight hours.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Biting insects can be a big pain for gardeners,’ says Dr Alexandroff. ‘I often see patients with insect bites — they are generally not serious but can sometimes trigger widespread eczema and even the skin infection cellulitis, which needs swift treatment with antibiotics. The theory behind this spray is that picaridin blocks the insect’s ability to smell human sweat and breath, although this hasn’t been proven.
‘Studies suggest picaridin is as effective as the older insect repellent chemical DEET — and less likely to cause skin reactions.’ 8/10
GARDENERS’ FIRST AID KIT TIN
£4.99, westsomersetgarden centre.co.uk
CLAIM: This small gift tin contains plasters, a tick remover and a pair of tweezers for removing splinters. The maker describes it as ‘everything a gardener might need after a hard day’s work’.
This small gift tin contains plasters, a tick remover and a pair of tweezers for removing splinters
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘There isn’t a lot that’s useful in this tin,’ says Emma Hammett, a trained nurse and CEO of First Aid for Life, a company that runs first aid training courses.
‘Firstly, most home gardens don’t have ticks, which live on wildlife such as deer and farm animals. Also, common gardening injuries are cuts from thorny plants and wounds from sharp tools — which will need proper dressings, or medical attention. Gardeners tend to have dirty hands too, so a plaster alone would not be useful as it should only be applied to a clean wound.
‘Gardeners would be better off buying a proper first aid kit with sterile bandages and wound cleaning wipes, available from most pharmacies.’ 2/10
KIKKA DIGGA DIGGING ATTACHMENT
This stainless steel plate can be screwed onto any spade or fork
CLAIM: This stainless steel plate can be screwed onto any spade or fork, creating a foot-long lever that allows you to dig from a standing position.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Lifting the amount of earth that a standard spade brings up is a particularly common way to strain the lower back,’ says orthopaedic surgeon Rajiv Bajekal.
‘This clever attachment means your foot presses down on a lever to dig and allows you to lift spadefuls without having to pull all the way down with the long arm of the spade — so it will really help prevent back pain.
‘Another good way to protect the back when gardening is to always bend from the hips.’ 8/10
Uvex 3D Hydroflex Insoles
CLAIM: Worn inside work boots or wellies, these insoles are said to provide shock absorption and protection around the heel and front of the foot.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Wellies have no arch support or shock-absorption, which means feet, and by default the back, take all the impact of the hard ground,’ says Rajiv Bajekal. ‘Over time this can lead to back pain and stiffness. Some people recommend insoles, but I am not a fan; and guidance from NICE says there’s no evidence that insoles help back problems.
Worn inside work boots or wellies, these insoles are said to provide shock absorption and protection around the heel and front of the foot
‘It’s safest to wear hiking boots with soles that are well cushioned, allowing them to take the impact of hard, uneven ground.’ 2/10
BIONIC RELIEFGRIP GLOVES
CLAIM: Designed by a hand surgeon with arthritis, these gardening gloves are made from Lycra and have flexible silicone fingertips. They promise to improve grip and protect finger and wrist joints.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘It’s often overlooked, but years of gardening can trigger arthritis symptoms in the hands, as it’s a mechanical disease caused by repetitive wear and tear in the joints,’ says Dr Sundeept Bhalara, a consultant rheumatologist at West Herts NHS Trust.
Designed by a hand surgeon with arthritis, these gloves promise to improve grip and protect finger and wrist joints
‘The thumb to finger action of using secateurs for pruning is particularly aggravating to the hand joints. These gloves will protect hands generally, but also ease joint pain by supporting the fingers and improving grip. They also distribute force on the hand joints and protect the soft tissues from additional inflammation.’ 9/10
BURGON & BALL KNEELO KNEE PADS
£14.99, John Lewis.
These knee pads are filled with shock-absorbing foam
CLAIM: These knee pads are filled with shock-absorbing foam.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Gardening can be very hard on the knee joints — especially for those with arthritis,’ says Dr Bhalara.
‘Kneeling pulls the kneecap back, creating huge pressure on the joint. Indeed, housemaids’ knee is very common in gardeners, and occurs when the protective cushions of fluid called bursa around the knee become inflamed and painful.
‘These knee pads are a great, inexpensive solution — and are much more effective than the kind of ‘kneeling pads’ you can pick up at garden centres. These will cushion the knees well, allowing you to kneel without triggering pain or exacerbating existing injuries.’ 8/10