Ditch the Sunhat: Sun Protection Tips You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

Wearing-a-hat-in-the-great-outdoors-photo-by-Kat-Reckling.jpgHold up, don’t report me to the Melanoma Society just yet. You probably shouldn’t actually ditch your sun hat. But if you’re like me and have never been able to get into wearing hats while gardening, here are two odd things I do to get a bit more protection than the average “slather self in greasy sunblock” strategy most of us use. After all, sunblock lotion doesn’t really stay put all that well in the part of your hair or the crinkly parts of your ears, now does it? Commence weird tips:

Eat more tomatoes, blueberries, and pink flamingoes

FlamingoesNew research has been coming out every day showing the beneficial effects of antioxidants, vitamin D, and omega-3 fats in protecting your skin from the negative effects of the sun. These nutrients can actually keep you from getting a sunburn by protecting your skin from damage at the cellular level. Astaxanthin is one such nutrient. It’s an antioxidant found in algae, shrimp, salmon, and animals that eat a lot of those things (mmmm… flamingoes). You can buy supplements of astaxanthin to provide protection if you’re in the sun a LOT (like me), or you can just eat more of these foods for some extra insurance. Lycopene from tomatoes has also been found to be helpful. Participants in one study ate three tablespoons of tomato paste per day (that’s 16 mg of lycopene) and saw a huge drop in sunburns. Mark’s Daily Apple has some great info here about which foods help the most. It’s not totally proven and standardized, so I wouldn’t rely on nutrition and supplements as your sole protection, but it seems like a smart backup plan for those days you forget the sunblock or miss a strip on a delicate patch of skin.

Powdered mineral sunblock

peter thomas roth sunblock powderThis stuff is insanely cool. It’s a sunblock, so it blocks all the different kinds of rays, and it’s powder, so it’s non-greasy and settles into the oddly-shaped parts of our ears and face easily. Here’s how it works: there’s a little tube of powder with an applicator brush attached. You take off the cap, dab the brush wherever you want to apply sunblock (you dab with varying degrees of vigor to get a lighter or heavier application), then you pull the bottom of the tube down to suck the bristles back into the body of the tube, so you can put the cap back on easily. It sounds messy and weird, but it actually works brilliantly. This is some seriously good design innovation. If I’m going to be out all day in the sun, I’ll apply sunblock lotion to create a sticky base for the powder, then dab powder anywhere that’s particularly sensitive (snoot, ears, etc.) so that I have a double layer of protection. For gardening just a couple of hours, I’ll use the powder by itself on my most burn-prone spots and call it good. This is the only sunblock I can get my manly other half to wear, since it’s unscented and doesn’t leave a yucky greasy layer on his skin. If you’re a lady, you’ll be happy to find you can apply this on top of your makeup without smearing everything. (I mean, that’s assuming you garden in makeup. I’m sure I’d look goofy if I tried such a thing, but surely some of you lovely ladies have the attitude to pull it off!)

How do you stay sunburn-free?

Share your tips and favorite sun protection products in the comments below. God knows I could use the help! Sun hat photo courtesy of the lovely kat reckling on Flickr, flamingo photo courtesy of wwarby on Flickr.

The GroundHog Rake: A Video Review, and Why I Love it for Mulching

GroundHogRakeHead.jpgThis time of year, I’m adding a fresh layer of bark mulch to many of my gardens to hold moisture in and keep the weeds down. Right now it’s especially easy to do because the plants are still small from winter dormancy, so I can spread it out without having to bend and wiggle to tuck mulch in between all the crazy exuberant perennials. If you’ve ever spread mulch, compost or topsoil with a regular iron bow rake, you know it can be a tiring job, with a lot of stooping and leaning involved. My employees can tell you all about it.  :) You wouldn’t think a curved head and a different angle would make that much difference, but the head on the GroundHog Rake totally “grips” the mulch – I can’t think of a better way to describe it – and the angle on the head allows you to stand up straight while raking, which both keeps the pressure off your back AND makes you look slimmer (which means more Ben and Jerry’s, right? or is that just my excuse?). I ended up having to replace all my old rakes with the GroundHog if I ever wanted to use it, because my employees all seemed to be faster than me at getting to the “good rake”. If you’re moving soil, adding mulch, or spreading compost, this is definitely the tool for you. (The makers of this rake will have you believe that the green one (The Garden Shark) is actually the rake for mulching. They are on crack. The orange one with its long, straight tines holds way more mulch and doesn’t get tangled in roots like the green one does. The green one wins the lawn de-thatching contest and that is all.) Check out the GroundHog in action:

Want to know more about mulching or the GroundHog Rake?

Read reviews on the GroundHog Rake at Amazon.com Learn some professional tricks to applying mulch in garden beds Read my initial review of the GroundHog Rake

Your Gardening Body: How to Prune Trees Without Strain or Pain

Usinglopperswithelbowsupandwristsstraight_thumb.jpg Anne Asher, a movement specialist from The MOVE! Blog, answers questions about how professional or passionate gardeners can reduce the strain that comes from repetitive gardening tasks. Check out her new product – great for winter time – called Clear the Blear. Here’s this month’s installment: When pruning apple and other trees in January, I often tire my shoulders using the pole pruners or sawing/ pruning above my head. Have you got any tips for easing shoulder pain while pruning trees? Hi Gen, The first thing that comes to mind is that you probably are not “in tune” with your shoulder blades, those flat triangular shaped bones located on your upper back.  Those bones are there for a reason.  When you don’t involve them in the work you do, your arms must provide all the power for the pruning.  This takes a LOT of muscle, and after a while they get so tired and sore they go on strike!  And you can feel that. [Read more...]

Your Gardening Body: How to Scoop Mulch and Use a Wheelbarrow Without Strain or Pain

1.jpgAnne Asher, a movement specialist from The MOVE! Blog, has been kind enough to answer some common questions about how professional and/or passionate gardeners can reduce the strain that comes from repetitive gardening tasks. Check out her new product – great for winter time – called Clear the Blear. Here’s this month’s installment: Dear Anne, In winter, I love to mulch my gardens, because mulch protects plants’ roots from the frost, keeps the soil surface from forming a crust when the rains beat down on it, and keeps the weeds from coming up. But shoveling loads of mulch, either from off the ground if we have mulch delivered by a dump-truck, or out of a pickup truck, can be repetitive and tiring on the lower back. I find I have a tendency to stoop while scooping. I’d love some tips on how to shovel light loads like this, where the material does not weigh much and you shovel more quickly than when working soil. Tips on using a wheelbarrow would also be much appreciated! [Read more...]

Your Gardening Body: How to Rake and Sweep Without Strain or Pain

Anne Asher, a movement specialist from The MOVE! Blog,  has been kind enough to answer some common questions about how professional and/or passionate gardeners can reduce the strain that comes from repetitive gardening tasks. Here’s this month’s installment: Dear Anne, By November, fall leaves are piling up around perennials and shrubs. I like to rake up my leaves and shred or compost them before re-using them in the garden so they don’t cause delicate perennials to rot. Do you have any tips for all the raking and sweeping that we do this time of year? Hi, Gen! Have you ever done Tai Chi?  If you have, you’re acquainted with the concepts of moving your whole body from the pelvis, and also weight shifting.  These skills are what you need for body-successful raking and sweeping. Raking and sweeping are much the same in that they require a tool with a long handle, and you are gathering the materials that are on the ground with the tool.  If you go about the work in a conscious way you can apply weight shifting and moving from the pelvis to each. Most of us approach this type of task with power arms – that is, a continual bending and flexing at the shoulders, and especially elbows, with a little upper body reach from time to time. But when you work this way, you have a lot of unused potential power in your pelvis. When it comes to efficient movement for repetitive tasks, the pelvis has a lot going for it: It is located in the physical center of your body, which promotes balanced action.  It’s circular, which like being in the center, helps to balance you as you work.  And, many muscles controlling posture and locomotion pass through this area, providing power and support for heavy chores. Think of your whole body action as though the pelvis were leading, or initiating it. Try this on for size and once that’s comfortable, focus more on letting the body follow as the pelvis leads. Try it in different directions and notice yourself.  (But don’t do this if it causes pain or strain.) Then take this idea into the raking/sweeping. [Read more...]

Your Gardening Body: Digging Without Strain or Pain

Anne Asher, a movement specialist from The MOVE! Blog,  has been kind enough to answer some common questions about how professional and/or passionate gardeners can reduce the strain that comes from repetitive gardening tasks. Here’s this month’s installment: Dear Anne, Fall is a great time to plant shrubs and trees, because plants can get their roots established and be watered in by the winter rains. Do you have any tips for digging large planting holes without strain? Hi, Gen! There are two points to think about with digging and shoveling.  First, they are what I call one-legged activities.  One foot is on the spade, which means both knee and hip joints will be bent for a good part of the time.  The other leg will be straight and should be “planted” into the ground to stabilize your digging actions. Many of us are what I call “accidents waiting to happen”.  What this means is that because of strength and flexibility differences on either side of, or between front and back of the pelvic structure, we may be closer to a back or hip injury than we realize. Add to this the fact that most people favor one side or the other when doing routine tasks, and you can see how it’s possible that one day you may be doing the same thing you always do, but something gives and you get injured.  It’s like the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.  Not that you will break your back, but the use of one leg for one part of the task and the other leg for the other part of the task over and over again results in some muscles getting really strong while others get stiff and weak. So two suggestions here: First, try to include some kind of core strengthening and body alignment work at least once per week.  Yoga and Pilates are great!  Feldenkrais, while not a strengthening program can help you rediscover your natural pelvic and body balance. The second tip is, and I want to emphasize that you should really get started with the first tip before trying this, is to switch out the sides from time to time.  So if your right foot is usually the one on the spade, then try the digging action with your left foot and “plant” the right for stabilization. The other thing to remember is that with a heavy task such as this, you want to find ways to avoid muscle and joint strain.  Explore how you can use your body weight as leverage.  For example, when the foot is on the spade, instead of pushing or thrusting the shovel into the ground, can you lean your weight in towards the ground? If you’ve ever done Tai Chi, this is Tai Chi in action. Another time to use your body weight is once you’ve gotten the dirt onto the spade and you are ready to lift it out. Can you lean back with your body weight, and with the help of your foot, leverage the dirt out from the ground? Finally, when you dump the dirt, try to get out of the habit of throwing it over your shoulder, which inevitably twists the spine.  Research has shown that it’s very easy to herniate a disc by lifting and twisting at the same time.  You have to train yourself at first, but walk the shovel around to where you need to dump the dirt.  In other words, turn your whole body, not just your spine. With my last thought I’d like to bring you full circle, back to the beginning.  Preface your digging activity by establishing a relationship with your shovel. Plant it lightly into the soil right in front of your body.  Ideally the spade will be level and parallel with the (imaginary) line going across your two front hip bones. ***Do you have any areas that hurt you when you garden? Let us know in the comments, and Anne can answer your questions in future articles.*** Anne Asher has been in the bodywork and holistic health field for over 20 years.  She has worked in chiropractors’ offices, physical therapy clinics and in her own business.  She taught Pilates based exercise to people with chronic musculoskeletal pain for 5 years in Humboldt County.  Anne is now the Back and Neck Pain guide on About.com.  About.com is a New York Times web property. If you like this post, you may also enjoy: How to Weed Without Strain: Effortless Gardening with Cathy Butler Your Gardening Body: Using Loppers Safely Without Strain or Pain

Your Gardening Body: Using Loppers Safely Without Pain or Strain

Anne Asher, a movement specialist from The MOVE! Blog,  has been kind enough to answer some common questions about how professional and/or passionate gardeners can reduce the strain that comes from repetitive gardening tasks. Here’s the first one: Dear Anne, By September, many trees and shrubs have grown out of bounds and finished blooming, so I find myself using my loppers often to try and keep plants looking good. Do you have any tips for reducing wrist and hand strain when pruning with loppers? Hi Gen, Many people get wrist and hand strain because they are working in “parts”. In other words, ask yourself about your attitude here.  Do you believe that the only way to use your pruners is through effort BELOW the elbow?  If you do, you are “muscling” through the task, as I call it.  Some of the heavy lifting and clipping can be supported by the shoulder blades. Before we get to that, here’s a tip for the wrist:  Try to work with an unbroken line between the forearm and the hand. If your wrist is bent forward or back, or tilted to one side, the added challenge of heavy pruning may strain the muscles that are keeping them in that position. Back to the shoulder blades. These are the big triangular bones that can be found at your upper back; they lay flat against the ribs.  This is one of those “thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone” kind of thing, except it’s the arm bone that’s connected to the shoulder blade.  The two bones of the forearm are connected to the “arm bone” and the many little wrist bones are connected to the forearm.  The fingertips are connected to the wrist bones.

Cultivate a Body-Regional Approach to the Work:

By being aware of the connection from your fingertips all the way to your shoulder blade, you can cultivate a more body-regional approach to the work, and avoid the “parts” approach.  This awareness helps bring the shoulder blades into the effort.  Let your shoulder blades take some of the weight of your arms, forearms, fingers and pruners from you.  Why not? Also, try lifting your elbows.  This will keep the relationship between the fingertips (and therefore, the pruner) and the shoulder blades alive and well. Do your best to not work in pain.

And here’s a little warm up exercise I taught in my workshop recently.  It may help you tune in to your shoulder blades and activate the whole area:

Tap your breastbone to bring awareness to that area.  Then, INHALE: Slowly extend arms out to either side.  As you do this, pretend that your arms are attached to your breast bone.  Imagine your arms are extending out to side FROM your breast bone.  Once the arms are all the way up to shoulder level (but don’t take them so high that you are in pain) SQUEEZE your two shoulder blades together in the back. EXHALE: Let all the air out, and allow your arms down.  Shake out your arms, shoulders, hands, etc.  Use the release to get rid of stress you might be holding onto. Do this about 3-5 times. These tips and excercises should help you become more aware of your body as you prune, so you can avoid stressing your hands and wrists when using your loppers to prune. ***Do you have any areas that hurt you when you garden? Let us know in the comments, and Anne can answer your questions in future articles.*** Anne Asher has been in the bodywork and holistic health field for over 20 years.  She has worked in chiropractors’ offices, physical therapy clinics and in her own business.  She taught Pilates based exercise to people with chronic musculoskeletal pain for 5 years in Humboldt County.  Anne is now the Back and Neck Pain guide on About.com.  About.com is a New York Times web property. If you like this post, you may also enjoy: How to Weed Without Strain: Effortless Gardening with Cathy Butler [print_link]

How to Weed Without Strain: Effortless Gardening with Feldenkrais Practitioner Cathy Butler (Video)

I don’t know about you, but when I garden for hours at a time (which for me is every day), even though I enjoy myself, I do feel sore and tired. Even a gentle and soothing task like weeding often leaves me stooped and tuckered at the end of the day. [Read more...]