Although research on gardening abounds, the researchers wrote that they were only able to find three other studies that tested the effects of gardening on disease risk factors by randomly assigning participants to groups that gardened and did not garden, then comparing their health.
In this case, researchers conducted a study in 37 community gardens in Denver and Aurora, Colorado. After publicizing the program in various neighborhoods, they recruited those on the waiting lists for the study. The 291 participants were adults and had not gardened in the past two years. More than half belonged to low-income households.
The group assigned to the garden received a garden plot, seeds, seedlings and an introductory course in gardening. Those assigned to the non-gardening group were offered the same contract in the next gardening season. The participants all received health surveys covering factors such as body weight, waist circumference, physical activity and diet.
During the study, researchers found that those who gardened ate more fruits and vegetables than their counterparts, increasing their intake 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% during the program. They were also slightly more active, increasing their moderate to vigorous physical activity over the study period. Gardeners also reported less stress and anxiety than their non-gardening counterparts.
Although the gains were modest, the researchers said these were the kind of small changes that experts recommend to prevent chronic disease risk. Smoking, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to this risk.
“These results provide concrete evidence that community gardening may play an important role in preventing cancer, chronic disease and mental health disorders,” said Jill Litt, professor of environmental health at the University of Colorado at Boulder. and lead author of the article. Press release.
The researchers, who received funding from the American Cancer Society, said it was worth exploring community gardening as a potential health intervention in urban areas.