GPs in England will start prescribing walking and cycling as part of a trial to help improve mental and physical wellbeing and tackle health disparities.
The Department for Transport announced on Monday that £12.7 million has been given to 11 local authorities to fund pilot social prescriptions as well as projects like adult cycle training, walking groups and free bike loans.
GP prescriptions will also include ‘wheeling’ for wheelchair or mobility scooter users, the department said.
Other schemes will introduced like all-ability cycling taster days and exercise mental health groups, it added.
The Government said authorities must improve infrastructure alongside the trials so people feel safe undertaking the activities.
The pilots will kick off this year and run until 2025 in Bath and North East Somerset, Bradford, Cornwall, Cumbria, Doncaster, Gateshead, Leeds, Nottingham, Plymouth, Suffolk and Staffordshire.
It comes as part of the Government’s Gear Change Plan published in 2020 and aims to evaluate the impact of these activities on individuals’ health, such as reduced GP appointments and reliance on medication.
The Department for Transport said several government departments and agencies, including NHS England, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, Sport England, National Academy for Social Prescribing, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Health & Social Care, are working together on the project.
Walking and Cycling minister Trudy Harrison said the activities have “so many benefits – from improving air quality in our communities to reducing congestion on our busiest streets”.
“It also has an enormous positive impact on physical and mental health, which is why we have funded these projects which will get people across the country moving and ease the burden on our NHS,” she said.
Chris Boardman, commissioner of National Active Travel, an executive agency being set up by the Government to improve the standards of the UK’s cycling and walking infrastructure, said: “As a nation we need healthier, cheaper and more pleasant ways to get around for everyday trips.
He added: “Moving more will lead to a healthier nation, a reduced burden on the NHS, less cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well as huge cost savings.
“This trial aims to build on existing evidence to show how bringing transport, active travel and health together can make a positive impact on communities across England.”
Minister for Health, Maria Caulfield, said: “Getting active is hugely beneficial for both our mental and physical health, helping reduce stress and ward off other illness such as heart disease and obesity.
“The UK is leading the way in embedding social prescribing in our NHS and communities across the country.”