While there has been a lot of research on gardening, the researchers wrote that they could find only three other studies that tested the effects of gardening on disease risk factors by randomly assigning participants to gardening and non-gardening groups, and then comparing their health.
In this case, the researchers conducted a survey of 37 community gardens in Denver and Aurora, Colo. After promoting the program in several neighborhoods, they recruited those on the waiting lists for the study. All 291 participants were adults and had not gardened in the past two years. More than half came from low-income households.
The group assigned to the garden was given a garden plot, seeds, seedlings, and a gardening course. Those assigned to the non-gardening group were offered the same deal during the following gardening season. The participants were all given health surveys that looked at factors such as body weight, waist circumference, exercise and diet.
During the study, researchers found that those who gardened ate more fruits and vegetables than their counterparts, increasing their consumption by about 1.13 servings per day. They consumed 1.4 grams more fiber per day than the control group and increased their fiber intake by 7 percent over the course of the program. They were also slightly more active and increased their moderate to vigorous physical activity during the study period. Gardeners also reported less stress and anxiety than their non-gardening counterparts.
While the benefits were modest, researchers said these are the kind of small changes recommended by experts as a way to prevent the risk of chronic disease. Smoking, poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to that risk.
“These findings provide concrete evidence that community gardening could play an important role in preventing cancer, chronic disease and mental disorders,” said Jill Litt, a professor of environmental health at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the paper’s senior author. press release.
The researchers, who received funding from the American Cancer Society, said it’s worth looking further into community gardening as a potential health intervention in urban areas.