Background: 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.
Methods: 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 three 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.
Results: The gardening intervention was feasible (robust enrollment; minimal attrition) and well-received by cancer survivors and Master Gardeners. Improvement in three of four 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 one-year follow-up: hand grip test [+ 4.8 (3.0, 6.7) kg], 2.44 meter Get-Up-and-Go [+ 1.0 (+ 1.8, + 0.2) seconds], 30-second chair stand [+ 3.0 (+ 1.0, 5.0) stands], and six-minute walk [+ 11.6 (6.1, 48.8) meters]. Increases of ≥ 1 fruit and vegetable serving/day and ≥ 30 minutes/week of physical activity were observed in 40% and 60%, respectively.
Conclusion: 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.