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June 5, 2014 | 3 minute read

Gardening for Health, Survivors, and All

The start of June marked National Cancer Survivor’s Day, and a time when gardening gets in full swing. Researchers are now investigating how digging around in the dirt may offer a unique strategy to improve survivors’ health.

Gardeners know that this activity can be a tough workout. For cancer survivors, a new study funded in part by AICR’s Diana Dyer Cancer Survivors’ Nutrition Research Endowment, is investigating how this popular summertime activity may also offer unique benefits for breast cancer survivors.

Harvest for Health
The current study, Harvest for Health, builds on a small study conducted last year at University of Alabama at Birmingham. In that study, a dozen cancer survivors were paired with a master gardener, a trained volunteer.

This current study teams 100 breast cancer survivors with master gardeners. Gardens are prepared at the women’s homes, either in the yard or in containers on wheels. Master gardeners visit with the survivors twice a month for one year, offering advice, expertise and suggestions.

Researchers will measure how gardening affects the survivors’ diet and exercise behaviors, as well as their physical health and health-related quality of life. They will also measure several biological indicators of healthy aging.

The study adds to the list of research supported by Diana Dyer Cancer Survivors’ Nutrition Research Endowment at AICR. Dyer, a registered dietitiian and cancer survivor herself, says: “this study is important because gardening as a therapy is accessible to all people with a cancer diagnosis, from the point of diagnosis forward at a low cost, low risk, and potential for multiple, large, and long-lasting benefits.”

Although small, the earlier study showed that almost all the survivors showed improvements in strength, agility, and endurance. Almost half were eating at least one additional fruit and vegetable a day. And over half increased their activity at least 30 minutes more a week.

Digging for All
Of course, the same benefits gardening can offer for survivors applies to all, the young and older alike.

Gardening can help you be active at least 30 minutes a day, which reduces the risk of several cancers. Having fresh fruits and vegetables in your yard also increases the odds you and your family will eat more of them. Fruits, vegetables and other plant foods come packed with nutrients and phytochemicals, many of which show cancer-protective properties in lab research.

Because these foods can fill you up on relatively few calories, combining this with increased physical activity can help you stay a healthy weight. That’s important, because obesity is now connected to increased risk of eight cancers, including post-menopausal breast and colorectal cancers.

It’s also a great way to get kids involved with healthier eating.

Want some gardening 101? Take a look at From Seed to Plate: DIY Salads.

And here’s more about Diana’s endowment and her personal story as a cancer survivor.

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