Gardening work may help lower cancer risk, boost mental health

Credit: Glenn Asakawa/CU Boulder

In a study from CU Boulder, scientists found that gardening work may help lower cancer risk, and boost mental health.

They found that those who started gardening ate more fiber and got more physical activity—two known ways to reduce the risk of cancer and chronic diseases.

They also saw their levels of stress and anxiety strongly decrease.

These findings provide concrete evidence that community gardening could play an important role in preventing cancer, chronic diseases, and mental health disorders.

Previous studies have found that people who garden tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and have a healthier weight.

But it has been unclear whether healthier people just tend to garden or whether gardening influences health.

In the study, the team tested 291 non-gardening adults, the average age of 41, from the Denver area.

After the last spring frost, half were assigned to the community gardening group and a half to 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 through the nonprofit Denver Urban Gardens program and a study partner.

Both groups took periodic surveys about their nutritional intake and mental health, underwent body measurements and wore activity monitors.

The team found 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%.

The researchers note that fiber exerts a profound effect on inflammatory and immune responses, influencing everything from how we metabolize food to how healthy our gut microbiome is to how susceptible we are to diabetes and certain cancers.

While doctors recommend about 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day, the average adult consumes less than 16 grams.

The gardening group also increased their physical activity levels by about 42 minutes per week.

With just two to three visits to the community garden weekly, participants met 28% of that requirement.

Study people 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 found that even novice gardeners can reap measurable health benefits of the pastime in their first season. As they have more experience and enjoy greater yields, the team suspects such benefits will increase.

If you care about cancer, please read studies that a low-carb diet could increase overall cancer risk, and vitamin D supplements could strongly reduce cancer death.

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies about how drinking milk affects the risks of heart disease and cancer and results showing eating fish is linked to a higher risk of skin cancer.

The study was conducted by Jill Litt et al and published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

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