A new study shows that people who work in gardens experience a variety of health benefits that may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer and improve mental health.
The randomized controlled trial involved 145 people who had never gardened before and tracked their physical and mental health during and after a growing season.
Participants consumed more fiber, exercised more, and felt more connected and less anxious following their gardening experience. According to a recent study, participating in community gardening activities reduces the risk of developing serious illnesses, including cancer and mental health disorders.
Gardeners increase their fiber intake by eating more fresh produce, exercise more while tending a garden, and feel more socially connected, all of which are protective factors against cancer, mental health issues, and various chronic diseases. Previous observational studies have suggested that gardening, in general, may provide some of these benefits, but this study is the first randomized controlled trial (RCT) to examine the benefits of gardening, and community gardening in particular. The study is published in The Lancet Planetary Health.
Gardening benefits beginners
The researchers recruited 291 adults who had never gardened before. The people were on average 41.5 years old. Of the participants, 18% were men (52 participants), and half came from low-income households.
The researchers conducted three waves of gardening, each lasting a year and beginning in May, just after the last frost where the gardens were located. Half of the participants in each wave gardened, the other half did not garden and served as a control group. Each participant took an introductory gardening course and was allocated a standard 10 square meter community garden plot, along with seeds and seedlings.
The same was offered to people in the control group as compensation for postponing their gardening for the duration of the study. The study’s lead author clarified that each participant spent an average of about 90 minutes a week gardening and visited their garden at least twice a week.
The researchers found that being new to gardening was not a barrier to successful gardening, as our study included only new gardeners.
Gardening promotes healthy behaviors
Researchers assessed participants’ health before the study and group assignment, at harvest time and the following winter. People completed stress, anxiety and diet questionnaires and wore thigh-mounted accelerometers for 7 days at each assessment.
In the study, the researchers found that the gardeners consumed slightly more dietary fiber than the control group, although still below the recommended level of 25-38 grams per day. They also exercised about 5 minutes more at harvest time than the control group. This study addressed a gap in existing research, as smaller observational studies suggesting a link to better health could not determine whether gardening led to a healthier lifestyle or the reverse.
This study showed that a holistic intervention such as community gardening can have an effect on several outcomes: fibre, moderate to vigorous physical activity and on psychosocial health: stress and anxiety, in an acceptable and affordable way for people from different social, economic and demographic backgrounds.
Gardening improves physical and mental health
Gardening addresses multiple factors important to reducing the risk of chronic disease and promoting overall health. Indeed, community gardening helps address known “modifiable risk factors” for diseases such as:
high blood pressure
type 2 diabetes
In this research, participants who engaged in community gardening had higher scores for personal subjective well-being and resilience than participants who gardened alone at home or those who engaged in activities. group outdoors without gardening, although they reported similar levels of perceived stress
This study confirms extensive evidence across a number of research paradigms to demonstrate the benefits of direct exposure to natural environments for restorative purposes, whether physiological or psychological.
The benefits of community gardening can be attributed to being outside in nature and fostering a connection to the land. Preparing, tending and harvesting a garden requires physical activity and being part of a community is beneficial for mental well-being. People who have been diagnosed with a chronic illness like cancer can also benefit psychologically from time spent working in a community garden. The nature of gardening, usually outdoors, involves physical activity, a focus on something outside of oneself, which therefore can also be a mindfulness activity, and can be done in community, as in this study, this which can serve as additional social support”