New Year, New Garden? Study Shows Lower Cancer Risk & Improve Mental Health

Are you feeling a bit sluggish and stressed out as we kick off the new year? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many of us make resolutions to eat better, exercise more, and make new friends in order to improve our physical and mental well-being. 

But what if I told you that there’s one simple addition to your list of resolutions that could have a profound impact on your health? According to new research from CU Boulder, that addition is gardening!

Showed Reduced Stress, Anxiety & Increased Health

In the first randomized controlled trial of its kind, scientists found that those who began gardening ate more fiber, got more exercise, and experienced significant reductions in stress and anxiety. 

The study’s lead author, Professor Jill Litt of CU Boulder’s Department of Environmental Studies, said, “These findings provide concrete evidence that community gardening could play an important role in preventing cancer, chronic diseases and mental health disorders.”

Gardening may seem like an unusual choice for a health intervention, but it makes perfect sense when you think about it. For years, people have been saying that there’s something about gardening that makes them feel better, but solid scientific evidence of its benefits has been hard to come by. 

Professor Litt has spent her career searching for affordable, sustainable ways to reduce disease risk, particularly in low-income communities. Gardening seemed like an ideal place to start.

How the Study Was Completed

The study recruited 291 non-gardening adults from the Denver area, more than a third of whom were Hispanic and over half of whom came from low-income households. 

Half of the participants were assigned to a community gardening group, while the other half served as a control group. The gardening group received seeds, a free community garden plot, and seedlings, and an introductory gardening course. Both groups took periodic surveys, wore activity monitors, and underwent body measurements.

The F-Word: Fiber

By fall, the gardening group was eating, on average, 1.4 grams more fiber per day than the control group – an increase of 7%. Fiber has been demonstrated to have a potent effect on inflammatory and immune reactions, which can affect anything from how we process food to the wellness of our gut microbiome to our vulnerability to diabetes and certain cancers.

Additionally, the gardening group increased their physical activity levels by 42 minutes per week on average. By attending the community garden two or three times a week, participants achieved 28% of the 150 minutes of physical activity that public health organizations suggest per week.

Mental Health Benefits

Not only did gardening help with physical health, but it also helped with mental health as well. The individuals who took part in the research experienced a decrease in their stress and nervousness, particularly those who had the highest levels of tension and unease at the beginning of the study.

So, if you’re looking for a way to improve your physical and mental well-being, grab your gloves and a trowel, and get ready to dive into the world of gardening! 

Not only is it a fun and satisfying hobby, but it can have a powerful impact on your health. 

Whether you’re a gardening pro or a complete novice (there are super-simple methods to start with like Ruth Stout’s method), this study confirms that the benefits of gardening can be reaped even in your first season. Happy gardening!

This article was originally published in Nature of Home.

Reference: University of Colorado Boulder

Journal: Litt, J.S., et al. (2023) Effects of a community gardening intervention on diet, physical activity, and anthropometry outcomes in the USA (CAPS): an observer-blind, randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Planetary Health.

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.