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Could walking to work help fix the nation’s health woes?

Press release issued: 13 November 2014

Businesses will be encouraging their workers to walk to work as part of a new £1 million trial which gets underway this month.

A total of 678 people from 84 workplaces in Bath, Swansea and South Gloucestershire will be recruited to the new study, which is being led by the University of Bristol and funded by the NIHR.

The aim is to look at the effectiveness of employers encouraging their staff to walk to work, and estimating the costs of developing and promoting walking schemes compared to the benefits of a more active workforce and a reduction in car use.

An estimated £7.4 billion is spent every year on health problems related to a lack of exercise, according to a recent publication by Public Health England.

Encouraging adults in the UK to increase their level of physical activity is a major factor in helping to prevent chronic diseases including heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

The NHS recommends that adults should take at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

The trial, led by Dr Suzanne Audrey from the University of Bristol with colleagues at the Universities of Bath and Swansea, will see half of the employers given help to encourage their employees to walk to work, while the other half continue as usual.

At the start of the trial, 678 people will be asked to wear a monitor that measures their level of physical activity for seven days. This will then be repeated a year later.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) will track and record the amount of physical activity that takes place on the journey to work.

Everyone taking part will also be asked to complete travel diaries and questionnaires about the way they travel to work, the costs involved and their views about schemes that encourage people to walk. The information will show which factors encourage people to walk to work, and which can act as a barriers.      

Dr Audrey, from the School of Social and Community Medicine at Bristol University, said: “There is evidence of a link between adult obesity levels and the way people commute to work. Walking to work is an ideal way for some adults to include moderate exercise in their daily routine and help them reach the recommended levels of weekly physical activity.”

Results of the study are expected in early 2018.

Further information

Further information about the project is available from the NIHR website. Details about Public Health England’s new framework 'Everybody active, every day' is available online.

About the National Institute for Health Research PHR Programme:

1. The National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme was launched in autumn 2008. It commissions research to evaluate public health interventions, providing new knowledge on the benefits, costs, acceptability and wider effect of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. The scope of the programme is multi-disciplinary and broad covering a range of public health interventions. The PHR Programme is funded by the NIHR, with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, NISCHR in Wales and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland. 

2. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website.

This article/paper/report presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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