Britons urged to walk themselves fitter

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The Independent Online
Health ministers yesterday appealed to an increasingly slothful nation to heave itself up from the couch and indulge in a little activity.

A pounds 9m fitness campaign launched in Docklands, east London, yesterday will urge people to walk further, use the stairs instead of lifts, and cycle rather than drive.

The Health Education Authority, which is running the three-year campaign, said the aim was to persuade people to adapt their lives to include some exertion, without pushing themselves too strenuously.

Baroness Cumberlege, junior health minister, who described herself as a keen cyclist and gardener, said: "We do not have to be Olympic champions or pump iron to keep fit. The important thing is to do something regular if you can. Start to build up to moderate activity five times a week - you will certainly reap the benefits."

The minister, 53, said she practised what she was preaching: "I do cycle and I've done the London-to-Brighton bike run. I'm also a farmer's wife and so it's quite hard to avoid exercise when you live on a farm - especially when the bullocks get out."

Research has shown significant health improvements result from building up to five 30-minute sessions of moderate physical activity a week.

Nick Cavill, HEA's physical activity manager, said: "Five 30-minute sessions a week is a goal. Any activity is better than none, particularly if you haven't been active for some time. So build up slowly, and think of all the ways that you could be a little more active . . . It's not necessary to go jogging or run around a squash court. Brisk walking, cycling, swimming and dancing are ideal."

The initiative follows concern that more than half the British population is overweight, and that one person in three is classed as sedentary. Between 1980 and 1992 the overweight population increased by 15 per cent to 54 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women. Other developed and emerging countries show a similar trend, and the World Health Organisation last week has launched a campaign to tackle obesity.

There is growing evidence for the benefits of physical exercise which protects against heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and arthritis. It also a valuable aid to stress relief.

The Active For Life campaign will be promoted on television initially, and by posters in libraries, community centres and doctors' surgeries.