Practice nurses and GPs should do more to identify and encourage people to be more physically active, updated NICE guidelines suggest.
The guidance from the National Institute for Care and Health Excellence (NICE) states primary care clinicians should question patients about their exercise habits, whether in consultations or as part of planned sessions on management of long-term conditions.
However, body weight should not be the only indicator, instead a questionnaire should be used to assess activity levels.
Advice tailored to the patient’s health status (for example whether they have a disability) should then be given, with the aim of meeting the UK physical activity guidelines.
Practice nurses and GPs should also provide information about local opportunities to be active.
NICE director of public health, Professor Mike Kelly said: "Given the benefits, many healthcare professionals could do more to encourage people to be more active.
"This advice sets out simple ways for family doctors, practice nurses and others working in primary care, to consider levels of physical activity in every patient they see and to help people to improve their health by boosting their activity levels."
Professor Kelly added that having practice nurses and GPs giving exercise advice could "have a big impact on improving lives" and "saving taxpayers’ money".
In the UK currently only 39% of men and 29% of women aged 16 and over are meeting the UK Chief Medical Officers’ minimum recommendations for physical activity in adults.
Regular exercise can potentially prevent or alleviate conditions, such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, colorectal cancer and breast cancer that are estimated to cost the taxpayer more than one billion pounds a year in England alone.
Physical activity can also lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and it has also been shown to improve symptoms in those with depression.
A full copy of the guidelines can be found on the NICE website.