Community gardening could improve your lifestyle and your health
Feb. 3, 2023 — Despite the boom in wellness culture seen in recent years, Americans continue to struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle over the long term. We had more options than ever before, but something still isn’t working.
According to the CDC, 6 in 10 Americans suffer from diet-related chronic diseases — heart disease, stroke, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes — most of which can be prevented by eating well and exercising regularly. .
So maybe it’s time to think creatively and get your hands dirty.
For years, Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) leaders have noticed the many health benefits of planting seeds and tending crops, but they had no real way to measure it scientifically. From 2017 to 2019, environmental health expert Jill Litt, PhD, and her colleagues at the University of Colorado at Boulder studied 37 DUG-run community gardens in Colorado to see if gardening could reduce common risks. to health associated with diet-related chronic diseases.
The randomized, controlled trial – the gold standard for measuring the effectiveness of new interventions – found that these novice gardeners saw a significant increase in their fiber intake and time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Researchers also found an overall decrease in anxiety among gardeners, particularly among those who started the program with higher stress levels.
The garden, says Litt, is a solution that intentionally deviates from medicine.
“It takes you away from the doctor pointing the finger at you and telling you that you need to lose weight and eat better because we know that doesn’t change behavior,” says Litt.
The garden also provides a social element that is crucial for those who want to hang out with others while they work but aren’t into Soul Cycle or Barry’s Bootcamp.
Doug Wooley, 42, who has spina bifida, a birth defect of the spine that can lead to physical disabilities, has worked in the garden for 10 years, many of which have spent at Denver Urban Gardens.
Wooley uses walkers and other mobility devices. As a child, he hated going to physiotherapy; staring at the same four walls and medical posters week after week with little social interaction was not a particularly motivating environment, he says.
When I go out in the garden, I basically do everything I used to do in physical therapy, except it’s exciting and fun,” says Wooley.
And in addition to the mobility benefits, he gets the added benefits of watching his plants grow, connecting with the food he eats, and sharing that experience with a group of people doing the same thing.
Litt sees a bright future for gardening as a lifestyle intervention, but she hopes the discussion can move away from the focus on weight and obesity. For her, going to the doctor, stepping on a scale, and being told you’re overweight doesn’t solve any fundamental problem.
“I would like us to focus on the basics of having a healthy life and an active lifestyle,” says Litt. “And if you have a bigger body type, that’s fine, but let’s see how to eat well, have a little balance and relieve stress, and maybe these things together will become the cocktail that we need.”