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Sabrina Hahn: Arthritis no match for Australia’s gardening expert

Sabrina Hahn is one of Australia’s most popular gardening experts, sharing her considerable horticultural expertise with her trademark optimistic enthusiasm and down-to-earth approach.

A qualified horticulturalist with a passion for creating sustainable environments, she has been ABC Radio’s gardening expert for over 25 years, sharing her stories and love for green spaces with the gardening community.

One of the earliest pioneers to promote sustainable gardening practices in the media, Sabrina has been guiding and inspiring gardeners to grow their own food through her weekly columns in The West Australian newspaper.

She is also a highly entertaining public speaker, MC, well-respected author and for the past decade, has worked extensively in remote Indigenous communities in the Kimberley, developing edible gardens so they can have greater access to healthy food.

At 61 years of age and still working 60 hours per week, not even arthritis can slow her down.

“I’ve had osteoarthritis for about 10 years. It is worse in my hands, particularly my right hand, in my knees and feet,” said Sabrina.

“For me, the arthritis has come about because of my occupation, but I don’t let it stop me from doing all the things I love. I just find other ways and means so I can still carry on this work and not come in at night in absolute agony,” she said.

“If I’ve had a big day of gardening, I will soak in a bath of lavender oil. Lavender is a really good anti-inflammatory plant and is great for easing the swelling.”

Sabrina also does Pilates twice a week and finds it to be an enormous help as it keeps her body moving without the weight-stress on joints.

“With arthritis, the pain can control you rather than you controlling the pain. So keeping all your joints moving is really important – but moving without stress,” she said.

“You have to understand the limitations of your body, you might not go on an 11km run but you must keep your body working. If you stop moving your body altogether, then all you do is focus on the pain.”

On days when her arthritis is very painful, Sabrina will take anti-inflammatory medication but she believes the key to living well is all about balance and managing stress. She believes eating a balanced diet of a broad range of foods is very important. And the fresher the food and the less processed the better.

“Once you start taking food and you homogenise and pasteurise it, put in vitamins and take out fat and all those kinds of things, you are losing the essence of the food.”

Having grown up in the country and remote areas, Sabrina never developed a palate for takeaway foods.

“Most gardeners are cooks because they grow their own produce. I have a veggie garden and lots of fruit trees and I will eat what is in the veggie patch, what is in season.” she said.

Looking after your garden can be more difficult if you have arthritis but Sabrina believes it does not mean you should give up something that you enjoy. Instead, she finds ingenious ways to modify tools and mechanisms that will make her gardening work easier.

“Because the arthritis in my hands is really bad, it means I can’t grip things properly so I bought some polystyrene foam from the surf shop. It comes in a tube with a split down the middle and then you just slip those onto your garden tools. They allow for a better grip and means my hands won’t be sore after working for a while.”
Sabrina uses rubber grip mats to help grip objects easily with her hands and a padded garden kneeler with handles to ease the pressure on her knees when she is kneeling in the garden.

“Also in terms of carting stuff around, I use a trolley and a wheel barrow as much as I possibly can as lifting and hanging on to things is a lot more difficult because of the arthritis in my hands.” She said.

Any final thoughts for our readers?

“Yes, don’t ever give up the things you love because you have physical changes in your body. It’s quite good that I have arthritis because then I have to stop,” she said.

“It is a matter of attitude and you have to focus on the positives,”

“So it is wonderful that when I stop, I actually sit down and just ‘be’ in the garden and enjoy what I have achieved. I think that is a really big positive.”

by Lily Lomma, Editor Arthritis Today magazine


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