Before you head outdoors to plant perfect rows of squash, pick plump tomatoes or prune purple eggplant, know that backyard gardening is almost as good for your health as it is for your taste buds. All that digging, lifting and bending provides a workout for the respiratory and cardiovascular systems and can improve strength, endurance and flexibility.
And then there’s the cancer-fighting component.
“One way to reduce our risk of cancer and other diseases is to eat five servings of vegetables and fruits daily,” says Claire McKindley, a dietitian in Clinical Nutrition. “Growing your own garden can be motivation to eat a more plant-based diet.”
To provide patients, caregivers, employees and volunteers with the healing benefits of “horticulture therapy,” MD Anderson staff, led by a retired horticulture professor from Texas A&M University, has created the Healthy Living Garden on the grounds of the cancer center’s Mays Clinic.
Nestled between towering buildings and busy intersections, the peaceful garden provides quiet space away from the stress of everyday living. Roses, pansies and peonies bloom alongside arugula, basil, tomatoes and squash.
Tended by MD Anderson groundskeepers and volunteers, the garden’s produce is used in “Cooking for Optimal Health” classes taught by the institution’s dietitians.
David Renninger, project manager for the Healthy Living Garden, hopes it’ll inspire people to plant their own gardens.
“Gardening provides the opportunity to connect with nature and offers numerous physical and emotional benefits,” Renninger says. “Why not get your exercise while being rewarded with tasty and nutritious produce?”