How our Healthy Living Garden helps cancer patients and survivors

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healthy_living_garden_028_master.JPGBy David Renninger

Between the towering buildings and bustling intersections of MD Anderson's sprawling urban campus lies a hidden world of verdant foliage, flowers, fountains and even a vegetable garden. 

But these gardens aren't just for decoration. Our Healthy Living Garden, located outside the Mays Clinic, provides patients, caregivers and employees with a key to cancer prevention, nutrition and improved health and wellness.

Here are some ways the Healthy Living Garden can help boost your health.

Increase your nutritional knowledge  
"One way to reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases is to eat a plant-based diet rich in vegetables and fruits," says Clare McKindley, a dietitian in Clinical Nutrition and Healthy Living Garden visionary.

In the garden, you can learn about nutritional best practices and improve your understanding of healthy eating. The signage includes specific health benefits from different color families of vegetables. For example, yellow/orange-colored veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins contain antioxidants, like vitamin C and carotenoids. They also contain fiber, which helps fight certain cancers and supports heart, vision and immune function.  

The garden, tended by groundskeepers and volunteers, produces seasonal crops suitable for the Houston climate. The current spring/summer selection includes tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant. Herbs such as basil, rosemary, and papalo, a cilantro-like substitute for the warm season, are also in production.

Learn new skills
Knowing about vegetables is one thing, but putting that knowledge to practical use is another. That's why dietitians from our Integrative Medicine Center utilize Healthy Living Garden produce in their Cooking for Optimal Health classes.  In these classes, registered dietitians provide instructions on preparing recipes consistent with the whole foods, plant-based diet. The classes are free, and each participant receives the class recipes as well as food samples.

The Healthy Living Garden can provide other benefits in addition to increasing knowledge of nutrition. Like our other gardens here at MD Anderson, the Healthy Living Garden also is a destination for cancer patients and caregivers to escape the burdens of cancer care and treatment and regain a sense of control and privacy. Decades of credible studies document the restorative effects of interacting with nature, especially in hospital settings:
  • Research shows that surrounding yourself in a natural landscape and doing 30 minutes of outdoor gardening can reduce stress and improve your mood.
  • The longer you garden, the better your mental health may be. Gardening can help alleviate or prevent symptoms of depression, like fatigue and sadness, and improve memory function.
The Healthy Living Garden provides the opportunity to connect with nature on a human scale and experience these benefits.

Keep in mind that you don't have to be in the Healthy Living Garden or any of our gardens to experience these benefits. They occur in all natural settings, not just vegetable gardens. Even looking at paintings of nature will elicit these responses.

Learn more
For more information on the cancer prevention, nutritional education and health and wellness benefits of the Healthy Living Garden, visit the Levit Family Learning Center on floor 2 of the Mays Clinic. Or, if you're here at MD Anderson on Thursday, June 5, 2014, please join us for a walk through the garden and a talk on the restorative effects of gardening. Get details.

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The restorative effect of gardens at MD Anderson

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