Walking and cycling should be encouraged throughout the community and should become the norm for short journeys, says NICE, in draft guidance published today (24 April) for consultation.

Regular physical activity is key to achieving and maintaining good health. It can help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes by up to 50%, and is also important for good mental health.

But we know that at present, as a nation, we are not doing enough exercise. Currently, around a third of adults in England do not even do at least half an hour of moderate physical activity per weeki. Children are also not doing adequate exercise; just over half of boys aged two to 10 years old and a third of girls in the same age group achieve the recommended level of daily physical activity. Only 7% of secondary school age boys do an hour's moderate physical activity each day. Girls in the same age group do not even achieve this.ii, iii.

Walking is the most common recreational and sporting activity undertaken by adults in Britain, with cycling the fourth most commoniv. The average time spent travelling on foot or by bicycle has decreased; from 12.9 minutes per day in 1995/97 to 11 minutes per day in 2007v. Cycle use is lower in Britain than it is in other European Union countries; bicycles are used in around 2% of journeys in Britain compared with about 26% of journeys in the Netherlands, 19% in Denmark and 5% in Francevi.

Increasing levels of walking and cycle use can bring health benefits as well as a reduction in car travel, which in turn reduces air pollution, road dangers, noise and congestion.

The draft guidance recommends that commissioners, managers and practitioners working within local authorities, the NHS and the wider public, private, voluntary and community sectors working on physical activity, the environment and transport planning should take coordinated action to support and encourage people to walk or cycle (for transport or for recreation). This includes:

  • Ensuring local, high-level strategic policies and plans support both walking and cycling. This includes a commitment to invest sufficient resources to ensure more walking and cycling.
  • Ensuring walking and cycling are considered alongside other interventions when aiming to achieve specific outcomes in relation to the local population's health (such as a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes).
  • Implementing town/city/suburban - wide programmes to promote cycling, this could include
    • providing information, including maps and route signing.
    • fun rides, car-free events or days, virtual cycle races and links with cycle sports events.
    • cycle hire schemes.
    • cycle training and maintenance classes or sessions.
    • activities and campaigns to emphasise the benefits of cycling (including benefits to health, reliability and ease of access to local facilities and services).
    • Developing and implementing school travel plans that encourage all children to walk or cycle all or part of the way to school.

The guidance emphasises that encouraging and enabling people to walk or cycle, for transport or as recreation, requires action on many fronts, and from a range of different sectors.

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at NICE said: “Lack of physical activity is contributing to a wide range of health problems in England, so it is important that there is comprehensive, evidence-based guidance in place that can help address these issues. Increasing the amount of time people walk and cycle can have a positive impact on health, the environment and the economy. We want to encourage people to walk or cycle for any local journey that really doesn't need the car, and also to get out in the fresh air and walk or cycle for fun. Our draft recommendations are aimed at making it easier for people to walk and cycle, as well as explaining the benefits of doing so and helping to address some of the safety fears that some people may have. I would now urge all those stakeholders with an interest in this guidance to submit their comments via the NICE website.”

The draft guidance is available on the NICE website from Tuesday 24 April

These is not NICE's final guidance on walking and cycling. The recommendations are provisional and may change after consultation with stakeholders.


For more information, please call the NICE press office on 0845 003 7782, or out of hours on 07775 583 813, or email

Notes to Editors


i. Active People Survey 2011, commissioned by Sport England (Department of Health).

ii. Health Survey for England 2008: Physical Activity and Fitness, The NHS Information Centre.

iii. Current UK physical activity guidelines (2011) are available on the DH website.

iv. Swimming is the second most common recreational and sporting activity undertaken by adults in Britain, with keep-fit the third most common. Sport and leisure module of the 2002 General Household Survey available.

v. Department for Transport, 2010.

vi. Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, The Netherlands, 2009

About the guidance

  1. The draft guidance will be available for consultation on the NICE website at Tuesday 24 April until Tuesday 19 June.

  1. Only stakeholders can comment formally on consultations, but organisations can register to be a stakeholder at anytime during this process and contribute from that point onward; the criteria to become a stakeholder are available on our website at:
  2. Final guidance is expected to be published in October 2012.
  3. Although NICE public health guidance is not statutory, the NHS, local authorities and the wider public, private, voluntary and community sectors are expected to follow it.

Related published NICE guidance

1. Preventing type 2 diabetes: population and community interventions. NICE public health guidance 35 (2011)

2. Preventing unintentional road injuries among under-15s: road design. NICE public health guidance 31 (2010)

3. Strategies to prevent unintentional injuries among under-15s. NICE public health guidance 29 (2010)

4. Prevention of cardiovascular disease. NICE public health guidance 25 (2010)

5. Promoting physical activity for children and young people. NICE public health guidance 17 (2009)

6. Mental wellbeing and older people. NICE public health guidance 16 (2008)

7. Promoting physical activity in the workplace. NICE public health guidance 13 (2008)

8. Community engagement. NICE public health guidance 9 (2008)

9. Physical activity and the environment. NICE public health guidance 8 (2008)

10. Behaviour change. NICE public health guidance 6 (2007)

11. Four commonly used methods to increase physical activity. NICE public health guidance 2 (2006)

Related NICE guidance under development

1. Preventing type 2 diabetes: risk identification and interventions for high-risk individuals (publication expected July 2012)

2. Obesity: working with local communities (publication expected November 2012)

3. Physical activity advice in primary care (publication expected May 2013)

4. Overweight and obese adults: lifestyle weight management services (publication expected October 2013)

5. Overweight and obese children and young people: lifestyle weight management services (publication date to be confirmed)

About NICE

1. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance and standards on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health.

2. NICE produces guidance in three areas of health:

  • public health - guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention of ill health for those working in the NHS, local authorities and the wider public and voluntary sector
  • health technologies - guidance on the use of new and existing medicines, treatments, medical technologies (including devices and diagnostics) and procedures within the NHS
  • clinical practice - guidance on the appropriate treatment and care of people with specific diseases and conditions within the NHS.

3. NICE produces standards for patient care:

  • quality standards - these reflect the very best in high quality patient care, to help healthcare practitioners and commissioners of care deliver excellent services
  • Quality and Outcomes Framework - NICE develops the clinical and health improvement indicators in the QOF, the Department of Health scheme which rewards GPs for how well they care for patients.

4. NICEprovides advice and support on putting NICE guidance and standards into practice through its implementation programme, and it collates and accredits high quality health guidance, research and information to help health professionals deliver the best patient care through NHS Evidence.

This page was last updated: 24 April 2012

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Copyright 2014 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. All rights reserved.