National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
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Walking and cycling should become the norm for short journeys

More people should be encouraged to keep fit by incorporating walking and cycling into their everyday lives, in an attempt to tackle declining rates of physical activity in England, NICE says.

Regular physical activity is key to achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, as well as being important for good mental health.

However, cycle use is lower in Britain than it is in other European countries, such as the Netherlands, Denmark and France.

The average time spent travelling on foot or by bicycle has decreased; in England from 12.9 minutes per day in 1995/97 to 11 minutes per day in 2007.

This latest guidance is aimed at schools, workplaces, local authorities and the NHS to encourage them to promote walking and cycling.

NICE recommends coordinated action to identify and address the barriers that may be discouraging people from walking and cycling more often or at all.

Town-wide programmes should be put in place to promote cycling for both transport and recreational purposes. These could include cycle hire schemes, car-free events or days, providing information such as maps and route signing, activities and campaigns that emphasise the benefits of cycling, fun rides, and others.

NICE recommends that walking routes are integrated with accessible public transport links to support longer journeys. Signage should give details of the distance and/or walking time, in both directions, between public transport facilities and key destinations.

School travel plans should be developed and implemented that encourage children to walk or cycle all or part of the way to school, including children with limited mobility, according to the guidance.

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at NICE, said: “As a nation, we are not physically active enough and this can contribute to a wide range of health problems.

“It is important that there is comprehensive, evidence-based guidance in place that can help address these issues. We want to encourage and enable people to walk and cycle more and weave these forms of travel into everyday life.

“This guidance is aimed at making it easier for people to do this, as well as explaining the benefits and helping to address some of the safety fears that some people may have.”

Dr Harry Rutter, Chair of the Group responsible for the guidance and Strategic and Scientific Advisor to the National Obesity Observatory, said: “We face a wide range of problems in England's towns and cities; most people do not get enough physical activity, our roads are congested and polluted, and we need to reduce our carbon emissions.

“This guidance addresses ways to increase walking and cycling for transport and recreation. If implemented, it has the potential to improve the quality of life for large numbers of people, now and in the future.”

Mr Ralph Bagge, a community member who was also involved in the guidance, said: “We all lead such busy lives these days, it's often hard to find the time to exercise as much as we would like. This new guidance focuses on community-level activities to help people to overcome these barriers by promoting walking and cycling as forms of travel or recreation. The answer is on your doorstep - if you have a coat and shoes, you can be active!”

Local Transport Minister Norman Baker welcomed the guidance and its recognition that encouraging more people to travel actively is a great way to improve public health.

“From April, the responsibility for public health will return to local authorities and we want transport, planning and health professionals to work together to help people change the way they travel.

“We want to see more people walking and cycling and this new guidance will play a valuable role in making sure that the funding we are providing translates into local measures that help more people to get more active.”

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