The NHS must make the promotion of more active lifestyles a “core business and not a peripheral concern”, health secretary Andy Burnham has said.
His comments came as the government set out its vision in August for a healthier England, arguing that active lifestyles needed to become “an intrinsic part of 21st century health”.
There also needed to be major changes in how physical activity was provided locally, said Burnham.
He has argued that if just 1% of the 2.5 million people on incapacity benefits in the UK could be encouraged to adopt healthier lifestyles, this could save the economy £13bn a year and industry £11bn.
The NHS also spent £3,000 a second on treating illnesses that could be prevented by physical activity, with a 1% cut in hip fractures potentially saving the NHS £200m a year, and a 20% increase in cycling £50m.
The government will now run four key public health campaigns to complement its existing Change4Life programme (pictured above). These are a cycling campaign called Bike4Life; a dance campaign called the Dance Champions Group; a Swim4Life free swimming campaign; and a Walk4Life campaign to get 200,000 more people active by the 2012 Olympics.
“Promoting active lifestyles is the simple answer to many of the big challenges facing our country today,” said Burnham. “It can save us money and ease the burden on public services. The NHS has the green light to be bold and creative to help people to be fitter and more healthy.”
In a separate development, companies could reduce their healthcare costs simply by implementing walking programmes for their staff, a US health consultancy has said.
The UK campaigning body WalkingWorks.uk has recommended that companies carry out a travel survey, as well as offer maps and tips for employees internally.