No matter where you go…people say there’s just something about [gardening] that makes them feel better,” said Jill Litt, PhD, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder).
In spring 2017, Litt launched a three-year randomized controlled trial to explore the health benefits of community gardening.
“We know from previous research that gardeners have significantly higher ratings of self-rated mental and physical health, but we want to know why that is,” said Litt.
Her previous observational studies have offered hints: One survey found community gardeners consume 5.7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day on average, compared to 3.9 for nongardeners. Others show gardeners have a lower body mass index than nongardeners, get about two more hours per week of exercise, and are less sedentary. When asked how many days they spent in poor mental or physical health in the last month, gardeners on average say 2.6 days while the nationwide average hovers around 6.2 days.
Community gardeners also tend to report a greater appreciation of the aesthetic beauty of their neighborhood.
“If you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you eat them because they are fresh and that in itself can be healthy,” said Litt.
She notes that the second most common response she gets when she asks why people garden is that they “love getting their hands dirty.” Animal research suggests exposure to healthy microorganisms present in soil can alter an individual’s gut bacteria, or microbiome, dampening inflammation and curbing stress.
Angel Villalobos, program coordinator for the CU Boulder study, said, anecdotally, he sees changes every day in new community gardeners. They’re planning healthy meals around what they’ve grown, making friends with their neighbors as they ask for gardening advice, and viewing weeding and watering as therapeutic.
Ready to get started planting your own garden and reaping the potential benefits?
Although gardening may be less accessible for some amputees, adaptive products such as elevated raised beds, vertical gardens, specialized tools, tool carts, benches, and rugged wheelchairs can make it possible. For those who can’t handle a large garden, a smaller container garden may be an option.
Companies that offer adaptive gardening products:
Gardener’s Supply Company
Texas Assistive Devices
This article was adapted from information provided by CU Boulder.