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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 05/05/2017

The Benefits of Gardening for Cancer Survivors

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a cancer preventive lifestyle must include physical activity and a balanced diet. At least 2/3 of your plate should be filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans at each meal and 1/3 or less with lean red meat, chicken or fish. The guidelines state that cancer survivors should follow the same recommendations for cancer prevention as the general population in order to reduce their risk of new cancers. Unfortunately, many cancer survivors have worse eating patterns and more sedentary lifestyles than they did prior to cancer treatment and compared to those who have never had a cancer diagnosis, as we discussed in a previous Wellness Bulletin.

Gardening is one physical activity that is relaxing, interesting, and more fun than going to the gym. Watching plants grow is relaxing, helps you focus on the present and gives you something to look forward to every day. Growing your own food is also a great motivator to eat more fruits and vegetables.

5 benefits of gardening:

  1. You eat more fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, helping to meet your goals for cancer prevention (more than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day) while saving money on groceries.
  2. Fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets spend between 7 and 14 days in transit. By growing your own food you will get access to fresher and therefore more nutritionally rich foods.
  3. Growing your produce reduces your exposure to chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  4. Patients with cancer who garden show reduced levels of depression, stress and anxiety. Gardening is a great way to get your mind off of treatment.
  5. Moderate physical activity such as gardening helps to significantly reduce the impact of side effects of cancer and its treatment, such as fatigue, osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, and longer-term cardiovascular problems.

In recent years, many universities have begun to focus on helping cancer survivors, their families, and the general population follow a cancer preventive diet. The University of Alabama and the Ohio State University have programs where cancer patients, caregivers, and student interns receive free classes on growing and harvesting produce, and are provided with vegetables and herbs grown on-site. Seasonal crops are typically used to align with evidence-based guidelines for cancer prevention and survivorship.

If you are interested in local gardening programs, visit the Frederick and Ophelia Tate Ogier Gardens at the University of North Florida. This garden produces organic herbs, vegetables, fruits, sprouts, and mushrooms with a focus on environmental impact and sustainability. The garden offers free workshops and special events to encourage students and volunteers to choose nutritious diets composed of organic, local, and seasonal foods. 

Produce cultivated by students, staff and volunteers is sold at the UNF Osprey Cafe and given away to students and volunteers. All community members are invited to participate at the garden, which allows more people to get involved and participate in the gardening world. For more information on gardening and the schedule for workshops at the UNF Ogier Gardens, please click here.

For information on more local community gardens in Jacksonville, visit the Friends of Northeast Florida Community Gardens (FNFCG) website, the FNFCG Gardens Map, or the University of Florida’s Urban Gardening website


Have a wonderful weekend!

Karen Ambrosio, OWS

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