Leona walked into our pulmonary rehab gym and she was not very happy. She said, "My daughter, Tammy, told me my gardening days are over. Done! She won't let me do it anymore. She says I get too out of breath. That makes me so mad!"
"Oh my," I said. "I know Tammy's just trying to help. She worries about you.” I paused. “Hmmmm...I'm sure you can still to do something – you just have to know how; pace yourself, and breathe the right way as you work. We'll figure it out."
So I did some research, found some information and gave it to Leona. "Show this to Tammy when you see her on Sunday and let me know how it goes."
We’ll get back to the story of Leona and Tammy in a minute, but first, here are some tips on gardening with COPD. Some of this might take a little planning, and a bit of an investment, but it’ll be worth it if it means you can work in your yard and still have the energy – and the breath – to enjoy it!
- Reduce the total size of your gardening area and flowerbeds, focusing on your most favorite plants.
- If you become breathless by getting down on the ground and bending over, consider replacing areas of your garden with easier-to-reach raised beds.
- Trade your traditional garden for window boxes.
- Decorate your deck, patio, or terrace with container gardens.
- Use perennials that come up year after year without replanting.
- If you have a large yard, consider replacing some of your garden or grassy areas with low-maintenance ground covers or no-maintenance stones or wood chips.
Tools and equipment
- A 50-foot long nylon garden hose, with its reel, weighs only 2 1/2 lbs. and can be carried in one hand.
- Use lightweight tools that require less energy. Trade in your traditional hoe and rake for smaller versions with extra-long or extendable handles.
- Use a long-handled gripper for removing gardening debris from the ground.
- Keep tools together in a rolling cart to avoid taking extra steps back to get them. If you are able, carry them keep them in a lightweight bucket or basket.
- If bending over cuts off your wind, try gardening sitting down. You can do this by using a lightweight folding stool or a rolling seat with storage inside.
Weather and the Air
- Check your local weather report or the Weather Channel for air quality and pollen forecasts so you can avoid working outside when allergen, pollen, and pollution levels are high.
- Limit your exposure to intense heat and humidity; garden during the cooler times of the day (early morning and late afternoon).
- Know if you are allergic to things growing in your garden and lawn. If you are and don’t want to give up your gardening, use a dust mask when you work.
As You Go
- Cut down weeds while they are still small and leave them where they fall. It makes good mulch.
- If necessary, relocate your garden tools and hose closer to your garden.
- Garden in moderation – especially in the spring when you're raking and preparing beds. Do a little at a time.
- Ask for help – whether it’s a tray of annuals or a bag of soil or fertilizer, let someone else do the heavy lifting for you. This includes transporting your purchases into and out of your car.
- Gently stretch and warm your muscles before you begin gardening.
- Slow down, relax, and alternate cardio-intensive activities (i.e. reaching, walking) with tasks requiring less exertion.
- Incorporate frequent breaks into your routine to reduce fatigue.
- When you mow your grass, wear a dust mask. Better yet, ask a family member to cut the grass, hire someone to mow the lawn, or trade in your walking mower for a riding mower.
- For small lawns, if you’re able, use a push-mower rather than subject yourself to the fumes of a gas mower.
So, whatever happened with Leona? I’m happy to say that two weeks later she came in to rehab, beaming. “Tammy stopped by yesterday with a bunch of flowers. We’re going to plant them in some pots out on the deck. I’ll have my garden after all!”
Sure, Leona’s garden might be smaller, it might be different, but it’s still something she can work on – and a way for her to get outside and enjoy her yard.
This post is adapted from a chapter in Jane's Book, Live Your Life with COPD - 52 Weeks of Health, Happiness and Hope, Infinity Publishing 2011.
Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of http://www.Breathingbetterlivingwell.com and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness and Live Your Life With COPD, scheduled for release Spring, 2011.