Gardening Could Help Reduce The Risk Of Cancer: Study
Gardening could help reduce the risk of cancer, boost mental health and bring communities together, according to a study published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.
Scientists say it leads to eating more fibrous fruits and vegetables, exercising more and building social connections.
These positive elements of gardening can ease stress and anxiety and lower the risk of various illnesses.
Fiber helps strengthen immune responses, influencing everything from our metabolism to how healthy our gut is, having a profoundly positive impact on our bodies.
“These findings provide concrete evidence that community gardening could play an important role in preventing cancer, chronic diseases and mental health disorders,” said Dr. Jill Litt, a professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at The University of Colorado Boulder, a researcher with the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, and senior author of the study.
“No matter where you go, people say there’s just something about gardening that makes them feel better.”
Up until now, it has been known that those who garden tend to be a healthier weight and eat more fruit and vegetables.
However, it has been unclear whether healthier people just tend to garden more or whether gardening influences health.
To find the answer, Litt recruited 291 non-gardening adults with an average age of 41, all from the Denver area.
More than a third were Hispanic, and over half came from low-income households.
Half were assigned to the community gardening group and the other half were put in a control group that was asked to wait one year to start gardening.
The gardening group received a free community garden plot, some seeds and seedlings, and an introductory gardening course.
Both groups were surveyed about their nutritional intake and mental health. They also underwent body measurements and wore activity monitors.
The group started in spring and by autumn, those in the gardening group were eating, on average, 1.4 grams more fiber per day than the control group, an increase of around seven percent.
While doctors recommend about 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day, the average adult consumes less than 16 grams.
James Hebert, director of the University of South Carolina’s cancer prevention and control program and co-author of the study, said: “An increase of one gram of fiber can have large, positive effects on health.”
The gardening group also upped their physical activity by around 42 minutes per week.
Public health agencies such as the NHS 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 a week, participants met 28 percent of that requirement.
The new gardeners also saw their stress and anxiety levels decrease, with those who came in the most stressed and anxious seeing the biggest drop in mental health issues.
According to the NHS: “[Exercise] can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes and cancer and lower your risk of early death by up to 30 percent.”
They add: “Eating plenty of fiber is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes and bowel cancer.”
The study results are not a surprise to Linda Appel Lipsius, executive director of Denver Urban Gardens, a 43-year-old non-profit that helps about 18,000 people each year grow their own food in community garden plots.
She said: “It’s transformational, even life-saving, for so many people.”
Many of the participants live in areas where access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables is extremely limited.
Some are low-income immigrants now living in gardenless apartments. Having a garden plot allows them to grow food cheaply.
Community gardening can also build social connections within communities and offer a space for people to share their culture.
With the freedom of growing your own food, people can grow their favorite fruits and vegetables from their home country and pass on traditional recipes to their neighbors.
Litt said: “Even if you come to the garden looking to grow your food on your own in a quiet place, you start to look at your neighbor’s plot and share techniques and recipes, and over time relationships bloom.
“It’s not just about the fruits and vegetables. It’s also about being in a natural space outdoors together with others.”
Litt hopes that 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.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker.