Gardening can Lower the Risk of Cancer and Boost Mental Health
Research suggests that gardening can make an excellent addition because of its positive impact on physical and mental health. Gardening can be added along with more exercise, eating right, and making new friends this year (
The first-ever, randomized, controlled trial of community gardening found that those who started gardening ate more fiber and got more physical activity, which are two known ways to reduce the risk of cancer and
. The study was funded by the American Cancer Society (
Researchers are seeking to identify affordable and sustainable ways to reduce disease risk, especially among those who belong to low-income communities. Gardening seems like an ideal place to start. Without evidence, it’s hard to get support for new programs.
Some small observational studies have found that people who garden tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and have a healthier weight. However, it has been unclear whether healthier people just tend to garden or whether gardening influences health.
To fill the gap, researchers recruited 291 non-gardening adults, with an average age of 41 years old, from the Denver area. More than a third were Hispanic, and more than half came from low-income households.
How Gardening Benefits Health Over Time
After the last spring frost, half of the participants were assigned to the community gardening group and half to a control group that was asked to wait one year to start gardening. Both groups took periodic surveys about their nutritional intake and mental health, underwent body measurements, and wore activity monitors.
By fall, those in the gardening group were eating, on average, 1.4 grams more fiber per day than the control group – an increase of about 7 percent.
There is a profound effect of fiber on inflammatory and immune responses. It influences everything from how we metabolize food to how healthy our gut microbiome is to how susceptible we are to diabetes and certain cancers (3✔ ✔Trusted Source
Facts on Fiber and Whole Grains
Go to source).
While doctors recommend about 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day, the average adult consumes less than 16 grams. An increase of one gram of fiber can have large, positive effects on health.
The gardening group also increased their physical activity levels by about 42 minutes per week. Public health agencies recommend at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, a recommendation only a quarter of the U.S. population meets. With just two to three visits to the community garden weekly, participants met 28 percent of that requirement.
Spend More Time in Gardening to Save Your Life
Study participants also saw their stress and anxiety levels decrease, with those who came into the study most stressed and anxious seeing the greatest reduction in mental health issues.
The study also confirmed that even new gardeners can reap measurable health benefits from the pastime in their first season. As they gain more experience and enjoy greater yields, such benefits will increase.
Many participants live in areas where access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables is otherwise extremely limited. Some are low-income immigrants now living in apartments and having a garden plot allows them to grow food from their home country and pass on traditional recipes to their family and neighbors.
While gardening alone is good for you, gardening in the community may have additional benefits. It’s not just about the fruits and vegetables. It’s also about being in a natural space outdoors together with others.
These findings will encourage health professionals, policymakers, and land planners to look to community gardens, and other spaces that encourage people to come together in nature, as a vital part of the public health system.
- Effects of a community gardening intervention on diet, physical activity, and anthropometry outcomes in the USA (CAPS): an observer-blind, randomised controlled trial – (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(22)00303-5/fulltext)
- Gardening for health: a regular dose of gardening – (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6334070/)
- Facts on Fiber and Whole Grains – (https://www.aicr.org/resources/blog/ask-the-dietitian-get-your-facts-right-on-fiber-and-whole-grains/)