Gardening helps cancer survivors improve health in just months. Here’s how an experimental garden at Ohio State University is changing lives by changing lifestyles.
The garden is part of the James Comprehensive Cancer Center, called Growing HOPE. It’s a cancer support program that includes education and coaching along with access to the fresh produce from the three-acre OSU “Garden of Hope.” The garden supports patients while providing researchers the opportunity to do research on cancer prevention. You can watch a video about what they’re doing at the garden in the video above.
In a press release about the project, Dr. Colleen Spees, PhD, RDN says, “After four months in our program, our survivors decreased their weight, fasting glucose, non-HDL cholesterol, and increased physical activity and skin carotenoids. In addition, they improved overall adherence to anti-cancer dietary patterns.
“Not only do our survivors have weekly access to fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables, they learn why we recommend these cancer-fighting foods and how to safely prepare them. Participants also have access to nutrition experts both on and offsite that provide additional support and guidance.”
If you’re a regular reader here, chances are the link between eating healthy, plant-based foods and preventing chronic disease is a no-brainer. But for many people – even many physicians – the extent to which nutrition can impact health isn’t as clear. Pilot programs like Garden of Hope are going to be key to changing the medical landscape from a focus on drugs to a focus on lifestyle changes.
Dr. Spees says, “We believe that our study is the first to implement and test an integrated approach to overall patterns of diet and physical activity while measuring the impact of adhering to evidence-based recommendations for cancer prevention and survivorship.”
How Gardening Helps Cancer Survivors
So, what’s going on in the Garden of Hope? Patients are getting active, and they’re getting access to more plant-based foods. Patients can visit the garden several times a week, where they can harvest seasonal fruits and veggies. There are also regular cooking demonstrations, and interns are also available at the garden to help with the harvest and to answer any nutrition questions that patients may have.
When they’re not at the garden, patients can also contact a dietician any time using Skype, IM, email, or even text. This kind of support is key, because such a big change in lifestyle can be difficult.
One benefit of the garden is tricky to quantify, and that’s the positive impact of being out in nature. Garden mentor Dr. Steve Clinton, MD, PhD says, “what’s hard to measure – and as equally important – is the experience that people have in the garden as the seasons change. The psychosocial experience of sharing, being outdoors, watching the sunset, hearing the birds, smelling the earth – it’s a reflection of the cycle of life that gives people solace.”
This isn’t the first evidence linking chronic disease to diet. Andrea wrote earlier this week about how people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes can get well by eating plants. Patients with diabetes and heart disease have been able to reduce their meds or even get off of medication entirely just by changing how they eat.
Gardening image via Shutterstock