People should shun the car for all journeys that could be cycled or walked in 15 to 20 minutes according to the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
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.
The advisory body called on councils to promote cycling for both transport and recreational purposes.
Projects 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.
It said the approach was needed to combat the “silent epidemic” of inactivity posing a risk to the health of people in England.
It said their new responsibility for public health, which the NHS will hand over next year under the government’s reform programme, offered a “unique opportunity” to make a difference.