This Nurturing Activity May Reduce Cancer Risk, New Study Finds

Here's one more reason to anticipate springtime! The cancer-preventing benefit of gardening came down to one key finding.

For decades it’s been known that one particular outdoorsy activity can improve physical health, with a growing bounty of scientific evidence of its mental health benefits also mounting in recent years.

But now, thanks to the findings of a January 2023 study published in the peer-reviewed Lancet Planetary Health, this popular hobby may yield another enticing advantage. Jill Litt, PhD, the study’s lead author who is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says, “These findings provide concrete evidence that community gardening could play an important role in preventing cancer, chronic diseases and mental health disorders.”

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How is gardening linked with reduced cancer risk?

While the social benefits of engaging in a community garden can promote cognitive and psychological wellness, it might be arguable that the cancer-fighting power of gardening can also be true of a solo garden at home.

Dr. Litt’s team of researchers specializing in nutrition, public health and environmental studies evaluated the diets, physical activity habits, and body measurements of 291 adults in the Denver, CO area whose average age was 41.5 years old. One group of the participants regularly took part in a community garden, while the control group had been placed on a waiting list to participate in one.

One key outcome at the end of the two-year study was that the gardening group showed a tendency to consume an average of 1.4 grams more fiber each day than the non-gardening group. That might not sound like much, but a University of Colorado blog post points out this was a 7% difference of fiber intake between the two groups.

The blog also points out that “doctors recommend about 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day”—but that currently, “the average adult consumes less than 16 grams.”

So, says James Hebert, MSPH, ScD, director of University of South Carolina’s cancer prevention and control program: “An increase of one gram of fiber can have large, positive effects on health.” The researchers suggest this can be especially true for individuals who don’t have reliable, affordable access to fresh foods.

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Possible links between fiber intake and reduced cancer risk

Foods that are rich in fiber—which include most fruits and vegetables—also contain key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may help fight cancer. As the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) notes, “Fresh-picked produce is often at peak flavor and nutrient levels.”

The AICR also nods to how gardening offers a built-in guide to wise portioning, thanks to the “modest harvest” many gardeners experience.

Also, a vibrant, produce-rich diet may lessen the likelihood that an individual will eat processed foods, which in excess have repeatedly been linked with illnesses like dementia and colon cancer.

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More major healthy gardening benefits

Plus, the researchers found that the increase in physical activity from gardening, as well as the demonstrated stress-reducing effect that the study found, may also help prevent cancer. Dr. Litt said, “No matter where you go, people say there’s just something about gardening that makes them feel better.”

Check out the indoor gardening system our team counted among our favorite products of 2022. Or, a pouch of seeds is a budget-friendly way to plant your own little plot! Here are 4 Easy Ways to Grow Indoor Herbs and Veggies.

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more.