National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
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Local councils should improve the quality of footpaths so more people can be active, says NICE

NICE is calling on local councils to encourage people to be more physically active by improving routes for pedestrians, cyclists and other users.

NICE’s updated guidance on physical activity and the environment published today (22 March) aims to help people be more active through improvements to the built environment and public transport and better access to the countryside.

Among a number of recommendations the guideline says councils should ensure that footpaths and cycle routes are convenient, safe and attractive to use. It says paths and cycle routes should be maintained to a high standard, including the removal of any hazards like tree roots and keeping obstructions such as parked cars, hanging baskets or bins out of the way.

NICE is also calling for additional support for those with limited mobility. This could be people with disabilities, visual impairments or those who may find it challenging to get around, such as parents using prams. Recommendations for this group include providing step-free access on public transport, such as buses or trains, to ensure that it is accessible for everyone.

Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for guidelines at NICE, said: “Handing back some of the roads to pedestrians and cyclists will help people to become more active. Simple things such as ensuring street lights along footpaths are working and hedges are kept trimmed makes walking a more attractive option which will lead to people living healthier lives.

“People with limited mobility need extra help from their surroundings such as adapted crossings, public transport that can be used with a wheelchair and step free access. With a little thought these measures can be designed into our public spaces to help everyone be more active.”

The guidance says councils should make more areas pedestrian only and refer to NICE’s recent guidance on air pollution which advised that smoother driving would reduce fumes, and help improve air quality.

NICE also recommends that pedestrian crossings should be made accessible for all. This would mean using dropped down pavements for wheelchair users, textured ground for people with visual impairments and allowing enough time to cross the road safely.

To increase the use of parks in local areas, NICE recommends that they are made more accessible and better in quality and appeal. For example, with clear signs that can be understood by everyone, by providing safe areas in which children can play and by taking measures to reduce anti-social behaviour.

In 2015/16, more than a quarter of adults in England were classified as inactive (fewer than 30 minutes physical activity a week). Increasing physical activity can prevent over 20 serious health conditions, including cancers, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.

Related Link: Physical activity & the environment - guidance

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