Walking and cycling need to become the norm for short journeys and more people need to be encouraged to keep fit by incorporating such activities into their everyday domestic and working lives, according to recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
To this end, NICE published guidance in November aimed at schools, employers, workplaces, local authorities and the NHS to encourage organisations to promote walking and cycling.
The guidance has recommended coordinated action is needed to identify and address the barriers that may be discouraging people from walking and cycling more often - or at all.
It has also called for the creation of town-wide programmes, such as cycle-hire schemes or car-free events or days, to promote cycling for both transport and recreational purposes. Walking routes should be better integrated with accessible public-transport links to support longer journeys.
Signage, too, should give details of the distance and/or walking time in both directions between public-transport facilities and key destinations, it has suggested.
According to NICE, cycle use is lower in Britain than 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 the period 1995-97 to 11 minutes per day in 2007, it added.
Professor Mike Kelly, director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at NICE, said: "As a nation, we are not physically active enough and this can contribute to a wide range of health problems.
"It is important that there is comprehensive, evidence-based guidance in place that can help address these issues. We want to encourage and enable people to walk and cycle more, and weave these forms of travel into everyday life."
He added: "This guidance is aimed at making it easier for people to do this, as well as explaining the benefits and helping to address some of the safety fears some people may have."