Sometimes as educators we can get caught up in the typical definition of exercise and emphasize walking, sports involvement or exercise classes. However, we often neglect to mention one of the most natural forms of activity that has an impact on both nutrition and physical fitness: gardening. Our ancestors gardened out of necessity and these days it is rare find. The benefits of eating fresh vegetables are known and accepted, but some of our patients may not realize the physical benefits of gardening and the impact on BMI.
Last April, the University of Utah's Department of Family and Consumer Studies published a study on the benefits of community gardens. They compared BMI of 198 gardeners who participated in the community gardens to the BMI of various combinations of neighbors and family members of the same age and gender. They found female gardeners had a 1.84 lower BMI than their neighbors or that they weighed 11 pounds less for a 5’5” woman. Male gardeners had a BMI of 2.36 less which equates to a difference of about 16 pounds for a 5’10” man. This was an example of the benefits of community gardens, which is starting to increase in popularity in urban areas.
I live in Lexington, Kentucky and there have been several community garden projects in the past decade. It has really taken off with low-income neighborhoods and our refugee population. Another study suggested the Navajo population should have a multidisciplinary approach integrating gardening and agriculture activities to help reduce diabetes risk.
Other benefits of gardening are getting outdoors, soaking up vitamin D from the sun, and the social connection of sharing produce and working together on a project. All things that also help reduce depression, which is a higher risk for the diabetes population. I am not a gardener myself and barely have a backyard in the neighborhood where I live, but I have just been thinking recently about the benefits of gardening and thinking about trying to grow a few things for my children so they can learn how things grow. I encourage you to discuss gardening with your patients. Please comment below if you have success stories of patients with diabetes who have seen benefits of gardening with their diabetes.