Cancer survivors are at increased risk for second malignancies, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and functional decline. Evidence suggests that a healthful diet and physical activity may reduce the risk of chronic disease and improve health in this population.
We conducted a feasibility study to evaluate a vegetable gardening intervention that paired 12 adult and child cancer survivors with Master Gardeners to explore effects on fruit and vegetable intake, physical activity, quality-of-life, and physical function. Throughout the year-long study period, the survivor-Master Gardener dyads worked together to plan/plant 3 gardens, harvest/rotate plantings, and troubleshoot/correct problems. Data on diet, physical activity, and quality-of-life were collected via surveys; anthropometrics and physical function were objectively measured. Acceptability of the intervention was assessed with a structured debriefing survey.
The gardening intervention was feasible (robust enrollment; minimal attrition) and well-received by cancer survivors and Master Gardeners. Improvement in 3 of 4 objective measures of strength, agility, and endurance was observed in 90% of survivors, with the following change scores (median [interquartile range]) noted between baseline and 1-year follow-up: hand grip test (+4.8 [3.0, 6.7] kg), 8 foot Get-Up-and-Go (−1.0 [−1.8, −0.2] seconds), 30-second chair stand (+3.0 [−1.0, 5.0] stands), and 6-minute walk (+38 [20, 160] feet). Increases of ≥1 fruit and vegetable serving/ day and ≥30 minutes/week of physical activity were observed in 40% and 60%, respectively.
These preliminary results support the feasibility and acceptability of a mentored gardening intervention and suggest that it may offer a novel and promising strategy to improve fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and physical function in cancer survivors. A larger randomized controlled trial is needed to confirm our results.