A new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder has found that community gardening is highly beneficial for both physical and mental health. According to the experts, those who engage in gardening activities eat more fiber and get more physical activity – two known ways to reduce the risk of cancers and other chronic diseases. Moreover, gardeners also typically exhibit lower levels of stress and anxiety.
“These findings provide concrete evidence that community gardening could play an important role in preventing cancer, chronic diseases, and mental health disorders,” said study senior author Jill Litt, a professor of Environmental Sciences at CU Boulder.
The researchers recruited 291 non-gardening adults from the Denver area, with an average age of 41. Over a third of them were Hispanics and more than half came from low-income households. Half of them were assigned to a community gardening group, receiving a community garden plot, together with seeds and seedlings and an introductory gardening course, while the others were assigned to a control group which was asked to wait one year before starting gardening. All participants took periodic surveys about their nutritional intake and mental health, wore activity monitors, and underwent body measurements.
The analysis revealed that, by autumn, those in the gardening group were eating, on average, 1.4 grams more fiber per day than those in the control group. Since fiber is known to exert a powerful effect on inflammatory and immune responses, it influences a variety of processes, ranging from how we metabolize food to how healthy our gut microbiome is and how susceptible we are to conditions such as diabetes or cancer.
Moreover, the gardening group also increased their physical activity levels by about 42 minutes per week, and reported declines in their stress and anxiety levels. Finally, since community gardening allows people to interact, such activities can also boost social relationships.
“Even if you come to the garden looking to grow your food on your own in a quiet place, you start to look at your neighbor’s plot and share techniques and recipes, and over time relationships bloom. It’s not just about the fruits and vegetables. It’s also about being in a natural space outdoors together with others,” Litt explained.
These findings will hopefully encourage health professionals, policymakers, and land planners to consider community gardens – as well as other spaces that encourage people to come together in nature – as a vital part of the public health system.
The study is published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.
By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer
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