What to do with your autumn leaves

I used to dread autumn and the leaves falling off the trees making a mess of the garden, patio and driveway. Now I try to see the positive side of the situation!

Here are some useful things to do with leaves:

1. Raking or brushing up trees is really good exercise for your core (tummy and back muscles) and cardio fitness. I find that bending down to pick the leaves up creates a good stretch for my back. However – please be careful to listen to your body as gardening can cause injuries if you over do it (see advice from Andy at West Berkshire Injury Clinic and from Julia at Wantage Pilates Studio below).

2. Derive a satisfaction that, unlike hoovering the carpet, once your garden and patio is leaf-free it will remain so for another 12 months. The effort is definitely worthwhile!

3. You can store your leaves over the winter to make leaf mould that is a good mulch for the garden. Leaf moud is made when autumn leaves are broken down by the slow action of fungi, rather than by bacteria that decompose other compost bin ingredients. Pile leaves up separately in a bespoke leaf mould bin or cage and you’ll have the perfect material to use for mulching and potting in years to come. See Monty Don’s instructions here.

4. It is easy to adapt your leaf mould cage to create a habitat for hedgehogs and toads. Or simply leave a pile of leaves in a quiet corner of the garden which is sheltered from the rain.

5. Autumn leaves come in a variety of shapes and colours that can inspire an art project

Gardening advice from Julia Trinder at Wantage Pilates Studio

Gardening is great exercise, and with the current dry weather a superb opportunity to get outside in the fresh air. But it can also lead to injury especially if you haven’t done it for a while. 

Decide what gardening activity you are doing and begin by warming up, gently/slowly mimicking the kind of movements you are likely to be doing – raking is different from mowing which is different to pruning which is different to chopping logs. 

I recommend regular breaks, at least once an hour, to give the back a rest. Gardening can involve a lot of bending, reaching and twisting, so, the lower back can get a bit challenged. 

If you’re lifting heavy garden furniture, paving slabs, logs etc don’t be shy to ask for help! I’ve lost count of the number of times clients have ‘overdone’ it in the garden, they can really pay for it later as it’s easy to not realise at the time that you are straining your lower back. Anyone with a hernia or pelvic organ prolapse (or at risk of one) should be careful with heavy lifting.

Gardening activity requires good spine, shoulder and hip mobility as well as strength. Great strengthening exercises are squats, bridging, calf raises,  side lying leg series,  superman, knee floats and heel drops, prone exercises such as swimming, dart,  standing work such as bicep curls, wall tricep press. 

Good stretching exercises before and after gardening are: hip rolls, clams, supine hip circles, ankle circles, rotator cuff series, spinal rotation, arm openings, prayer stretch, thread the needle, diamond press, baby swan, neck circles and figure of 8,

A note of caution, anyone with a history of back pain/problems and those diagnosed/at risk of osteoporosis should seek advice about modifications. So, loaded spinal flexion with rotation, for both groups should be treated with caution. 

If you would like any more advice please feel free to contact me at wantagepilates.co.uk

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