Spending more time outdoors is known to be good for our physical and mental health. And gardening is one way to do that.
A new study funded by the American Cancer Society has found that group gardening (where individuals can participate in gardening) can have wide-ranging benefits. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that people who gardened consumed more fiber and moved more. These two methods have been proven to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases.
In a university statement, lead researcher Professor Jill Lett said: “These results provide concrete evidence that community gardening can play an important role in the prevention of cancer, chronic disease and mental illness.”
Previous research has shown that people who garden tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and have an optimal weight.
However, it was not clear whether only healthy people practice gardening or whether gardening affects health.
For this study, which was published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the team recruited 291 adults with an average age of 41.
Participants came from the Denver area, more than a third were Hispanic, and more than half were from families considered low-income.
Half of the participants were assigned to a community gardening group and the other half were assigned to a control group who were told to wait a year before beginning gardening.
Members of the gardening group were provided with a free community garden, some seeds and seedlings, and an introductory gardening course that was scheduled to start in the spring.
To collect data, both groups completed periodic interviews about diet and mental health, as well as wearing activity monitors and measuring devices.
By fall, gardeners were eating an average of 1.4 grams more fiber per day than controls, an increase of about 7%.
The researchers noted that fiber improves inflammatory and immune responses, including how food is metabolized, how healthy the gut microbiome is, and susceptibility to diabetes and certain types of cancer.
James Hibbert, co-author of the study and director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the University of South Carolina, commented, “Increasing your fiber intake by as little as one gram can have a significant positive impact on health.”
Gardeners also increased their physical activity levels by about 42 minutes each week, while NHS guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes per week.
Visiting the park just two to three times a week, participants spent 28% of the recommended time.
Study participants also reported lower levels of stress and anxiety. Study participants who were more stressed and anxious also saw a reduction in mental health problems.