A growing number of GPs and healthcare professionals are "prescribing" gardening to improve the health of their patients, it has been claimed.

Growing Health, a national project to see how community food growing can be used as a way of promoting health and well-being, said the physical benefits that can be reaped are increasingly being recognised.

Gardening prescriptions are being championed by a growing movement of charities and healthcare organisations who want gardening and food growing to be seen as a key activity for public health, general health and social care.

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It said many of these projects engage people at risk of ill health and in areas of high social deprivation, providing both physical and mental health benefits as well as helping to reduce social isolation.

Charities such as Thrive also use gardening as therapy to help disabled people.

Professor Jeremy Levy, director of education and quality at Health Education North West London, who is due to speak at a conference on the issue next month, said: "Investing and supporting food growing and gardening as part of our health service is a cost effective way to improve health as well as prevent ill health".