Gardening + Cancer Recovery

Gardening + Cancer Recovery

By Anne Miller



Because we’re allowed to count gardening as healthy time now.

By Anne Miller

Don’t be surprised if one day your doctor orders you to put spade to earth. There’s a surprising new connection between gardening and good health. Turns out that turning some dirt can be just as beneficial as what we tend to consider exercise, and it boosts your mental as well as physical well-being. 

The latest research on this comes from a study of cancer survivors — because the news suggests that gardening can help such post-treatment patients boost all of those indicators of good health that doctors like to see. 

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have found that cancer survivors who plant their own fruit and vegetables are also cultivating their own good health. A tiny initial study proved so powerful that now more than 100 certified Master Gardeners have signed on to help launch gardens for cancer survivors. 

Of the 12 original participants (all cancer survivors) who worked with certified Master Gardeners to plant a garden:


showed serious improvement after one year in

• Hand grip power

• Standing on and stepping down from a chair in 30 seconds

• Distance walked in six minutes

Several of them ate more fruit and vegetables, and more than half increased their general physical activity. 

The study authors admit they need larger numbers to flesh out their hypothesis, but the idea has taken off around Birmingham. (In fact, Alabama breast cancer survivors? They’re looking to set you up with free tips and equipment — just let them know.) 

This could be a good example for us all. 

Previous studies have shown that gardening reduces stress levels and increases fitness for everyone. The Centers for Disease Control consider it moderate exercise when it comes to tallying how much fitness we should all get these days. 

So if you don’t like running, you want to recover faster from a health scare and you like pretty petunias and tomatoes fresh off the vine? A little dirt under the fingernails could do wonders. 

Maybe that old saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” was less about the actual apples and more about the benefits of getting them — or anything edible — to grow.