For cancer survivors, three seasons of home vegetable gardening may increase physical activity, fruits, and vegetables in the diet and also enhance feelings of self-worth, researchers say.

Possibly as a result of these healthy behaviors, gardeners in the small study also tended to gain less weight around their waists compared to their counterparts on a waiting list for the gardening intervention, the study team reports.

It’s estimated there are more than 15 million cancer survivors in the U.S., over two-thirds of whom are over age 60, they note in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“For cancer survivors, especially those who are older, we look for lifestyle changes that can help them get healthier but are also holistic and have meaning,” said lead author Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, chair of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We can send people to the gym, but that isn’t meaningful, and we can counsel them to eat better, but we want it to be more rewarding, and we want it to be long-term,” Demark-Wahnefried told Reuters Health in a telephone interview. “With gardening, we’ve hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

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