NHS guidance on creating exercise-friendly environments

In collaboration with the Press Association

The NHS has published new recommendations about how local authorities, planners, transport authorities and architects can help to create environments that encourage physical activity.

The guidance, which is published today (January 23rd) by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), points out that built and natural environments can help to promote physical activity and hopefully halt the trend of growing obesity.

Cancer Research UK has welcomed the recommendations, noting that a lack of exercise increases the risk of bowel and breast cancer, and may be linked to other forms of the disease such as womb, lung and prostate cancer.

The government hopes that the guidelines will help to address the 65 per cent of men and 76 per cent of women in England who do not achieve the recommended level of exercise - at least 30 minutes of moderate activity (such as brisk walking) on five or more days per week.

The NHS recommends that new planning applications should always prioritise the need for people to be physically active, including those with impaired mobility.

Street developers should ensure that priority is given to pedestrians, cyclists and other active people when designing and maintaining roads, while new workplaces should be linked to walking and cycling routes.

In addition, buildings should have attractive staircases that are clearly signposted to encourage use.

Dr Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at NICE and executive lead for the new guidance, commented: "Small changes to our environment such as making it easier to walk, cycle or take the stairs as part of everyday life can be enough to help people to meet the national recommended levels.

"Every day, planners, designers and architects make decisions that affect the way people live; what we are recommending is that they should do this in a way that makes it easier for people to be physically active."

Professor Mike Kelly, director of NICE's Centre for Public Health Excellence, noted that our lives have become more sedentary than ever, but that modest increases in activity can "break the pattern of couch potato behaviour and benefit health".

"To help this happen, the environment in both urban and rural areas needs to provide safe places for people to walk or cycle, and to ensure that local amenities are accessible," he pointed out.

"Town planning and public health have been synonymous with each other since the 19th century cholera outbreaks, and this guidance reinforces the link between 21st century town planning and public health to improve physical activity."