Shovel: A wide handle and bigger step give you better leverage. Choose from three sizes to fit your height. (Green Heron Tools HERShovel, $66.49; greenherontools.com)
Knee cushion: Gardening can be rough on the knees. The Jolly knee cushion buffers them from the hard ground. ($36.95; gardenclogs.com)
Pruner and shears: Contoured handles fit your hand shape and motion; gears make tough cuts easier with a light tool. (Fiskars PowerGear2, $24.99; Hedge Shears, $41.99; fiskars.com)
Trowel: A gel insert in the wrist-friendly grip means extra comfort. (Ergo Gel Grip Hand Trowel, $8; homedepot.com)
Hose nozzle: A flip of the thumb turns it on; a twist of the wrist adjusts flow. (Dramm Revolution 9-Pattern Spray Gun, $14.99; amazon.com)
Watering can: Get more control from a no-slip, soft grip. Turn the spout backward to stow. (Outdoor Pour & Store Watering Can, $24.99; oxo.com)
Position yourself correctly to use the right muscles.
Planting and weeding: Keep your back straight (not hunched) to minimize back strain and take breaks every 15 minutes or so to protect your knees and back.
Picking up bags of soil: To lift any heavy item, bend at your knees—not your waist—to engage your leg muscles. This decreases stress on your neck, shoulders, and back.
Pruning: Always pull branches to your level (or use a reacher). Avoid twisting or reaching overhead.
Families who garden grow $677 worth of fruits and vegetables a year. The No. 1 vegetable that people grow in their gardens: tomatoes, with 86 percent of American households planting them.
Green beans: They're loaded with heart-protecting antioxidants—even more than their cousins in the pea and bean family.
Cucumbers: Make your own probiotics: Brine pickle-size cucumbers in water and salt (vinegar kills the healthy bacteria). You'll also get a good dose of vitamin K.
Leafy greens: Most are nutrition standouts, but based on a ranking of nutrients per calories, watercress and spinach are in the top five, beating out kale.
Tomatoes: Packed with vitamins A and C, plus cancer-fighting lycopene, tomatoes are even better for you after being cooked. Heat increases the antioxidant.
Peppers: Every bite gives you vitamin C, beta-carotene, and carotenoids. The longer peppers ripen (on the vine or your counter), the higher the levels.
Zucchini: Stop and eat the flowers! They have vitamin C. The squash itself has potassium and fiber (much of which is in the skin).
Gardening provides powerful stress relief. In one study, people who took a frustrating test then gardened for 30 minutes enjoyed an uptick in their mood and a lowering of the stress hormone cortisol. Make the most of your time in the green.
Unplug: Leave the electronics (your phone, iPad, and laptop) inside. Focusing on the greenery without distractions helps you truly disconnect, soak in the moment, and fully recharge.
Breathe: Up the relaxation factor by paying attention to your breathing as you work. Breathe slowly, inhaling through your nose and exhaling out your mouth.