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A Pilot Study of the Benefits of Traditional and Mindful Community Gardening For Urban Older Adults' Subjective Well-Being

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A Pilot Study of the Benefits of Traditional and Mindful Community Gardening For Urban Older Adults' Subjective Well-Being
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  A Pilot Study of the Benefits of Traditional and Mindful Community Gardening For Urban Older AdultsÕ Subjective Well-Being  by Heather Audrey Okvat A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy Approved June 2011 by the Graduate Supervisory Committee: Alex Zautra, Chair Mary Davis Richard Knopf Morris Okun ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY August 2011   " ABSTRACT The population of older adults and the percentage of people living in urban areas are both increasing in the U.S. Finding ways to enhance city-dwelling, older adultsÕ social integration, cognitive vitality, and connectedness to nature were conceptualized as critical pathways to maximizing their subjective well-being (SWB) and overall health. Past research has found that gardening is associated with increased social contact and reduced risk of dementia, and that higher levels of social support, cognitive functioning, mindfulness, and connectedness to nature are positively related to various aspects of SWB. The present study was a pilot study to examine the feasibility of conducting a randomized, controlled trial of community gardening and to provide an initial assessment of a new interventionÑÒMindful Community Gardening,Ó or mindfulness training in the context of gardening. In addition, this study examined whether community gardening, with or without mindfulness training, enhanced SWB among older adults and increased social support, attention and mindfulness, and connectedness to nature. Fifty community-dwelling adults between the ages of 55 and 79 were randomly assigned to one of three groups: Traditional Community Gardening (TCG), Mindful Community Gardening (MCG), or Wait-List Control. The TCG and MCG arms each consisted of two groups of 7 to 10 participants meeting weekly for nine weeks. TCG involved typical gardening activities undertaken collaboratively. MCG involved the same, but with the addition of guided development of non-judgmental, present-focused awareness. There was a   "" statistically significant increase in different aspects of mindfulness for the TCG and the MCG arms. The interventions did not measurably impact social support, attention, or connectedness to nature in this small, high functioning, pilot sample. Qualitative analysis of interview data from 12 participants in the TCG and MCG groups revealed that both groups helped some participants to better cope with adversity. It was concluded that it is feasible to conduct randomized, controlled trials of community gardening with urban older adults, and considerations for implementing such interventions are delineated.   """ ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am indebted to my advisor and dissertation committee chair, Alex Zautra, for his vision of this dissertation, emphasis on establishing theoretical foundations for my hypotheses, and constant support in its, and my, development. As an instructor, chair, and mentor, he has been pivotal in my professional evolution over the past decade. I am especially grateful for his call in 2007 asking to meet to discuss community gardening from a resilience perspective, and for his inspiring confidence in me. I thank Mary Davis for the compassionate and wise direction that she generously provided throughout this project, particularly regarding the mindfulness component, intervention design, and statistical analyses. She adopted me as a graduate student in 2001, and I have had the  privilege of being under her wing ever since. I am grateful to Richard Knopf for the broadened perspective he contributed to this work through his expertise in  person-natural environment interactions, his knowledge of community development, and his advocacy for the inclusion of qualitative methods. Since our first meeting in 2007, every point of contact has been a joyful meeting of the minds. I express my deepest respect and appreciation to Morris Okun for his incisive input on every aspect of this project, from the choice of measures to working with older participants, from the data analytic strategy to interpretation of the results. I know how to do so much of what I do because of the clear explanations and research mentorship he has provided since 2001. Many individuals have formed a community around the Community Gardening Research Study. For providing the garden expertise and partnership I   "# needed to make this study a reality, I thank the garden coordinator, Bob Friend. For officially approving of use of the garden for study purposes, I thank Jenny Lucier. For his help in countless ways, from lending a pickup truck to haul supplies, to sharing his porch on rainy days, to offering a warm smile to all the study participants and personnel, I thank David Lucier. For abundant energy, dedication, creativity, curiosity, hard work, and flexibility, I thank all of the research assistants who contributed to this project: Melissa Bialczak, Elizabeth Buck, Geneva DellaBitta, Tisha Gonzales, Wesley James, Natasha Mitric, Christina Moldovan, Stephanie Rogers, and Leah Shaffer. For invaluable help with specific challenges while completing this study, I thank Freda Liu, Maureen Olmsted, and Julia Steinberg. I thank Hannot Rodr’guez Zabaleta for being ready to lend a hand whenever a challenge arose. I also extend my appreciation to my support network of family and friends, especially Maya, Laurel, and Mom and Papa. I could not have accomplished this without you. This research was supported by a grant from the Arizona State University Office of the Vice Provost for Research, administered under the Graduate and Professional Student Association Research Grant Program, and by generous funding from Dr. Christopher Wharton, Assistant Professor of Nutrition, Arizona State University.
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