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, the government’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Effectiveness has said.
According to NICE, 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, it has calculated.
To this end it has published guidance aimed at schools, workplaces, local authorities and the NHS to encourage them to promote walking and cycling.
Regular physical activity, it has also pointed out, is central 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.
Its recommendations include the benefits of councils putting in place town-wide programmes to promote cycling for both transport and recreational purposes.
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 and “fun rides” could all help.
Walking routes should be better integrated with accessible public transport links to support longer journeys; street signage should give details of the distance and/or walking time, in both directions, between public transport facilities and key destinations, it has added.
Against this backdrop, employers can help in two key areas: the daily commute and in encouraging employees to take breaks, activity and exercise during the working day.
Many employers already do sterling work in encouraging employees to cycle to work or consider getting off public transport a stop early. Schemes such as the government-backed Cycle to Work initiative can also be worthwhile investigating.
Then, at work, it can be a case of encouraging employees to use the stairs instead of the lift, to get up from their workstation and move around, to get out into the fresh air and lunchtime and, simply, not work in a sedentary position for too many hours at one go.
Employers can, of course, also take such initiatives to a higher level, perhaps by offering subsidised gym membership or even investing in their own in-house gym facilities.
But the key message has to be that encouraging and promoting healthier, more active lifestyles for employees need not necessarily be expensive or onerous but, simply, absolutely the right thing to be doing.