The Royal College of General Practitioners has backed new NICE physical activity guidance and urged employers to swiftly implement the recommendations in some capacity to tackle sedentary behaviour in the workplace.

The NICE Quality Standard on encouraging physical activity in the community is aimed at healthcare commissioners, service providers, health and public health practitioners, employers, schools, voluntary and community sector and the public.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that more than 131 million working days were lost to sickness in 2017, including 13 million working days lost to stress, depression or anxiety.

Being more active in everyday life is important for the physical and mental health of people of all ages and abilities. It may also help to reduce staff absenteeism levels, increase staff satisfaction and improve the workplace environment.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Exercise can have a hugely positive impact on our physical and mental health, so making it easier for people to be more active as part of their daily routine – both at work and in their leisure time - is key to helping patients live a long and healthy life.

"This new quality standard from NICE offers useful advice for professionals and commissioners across society – and for employers, it includes pragmatic suggestions that can be tailored to workplaces of different sizes and with varying resources available."

One in four people were classed as obese in 2016

Highlighting a lunchtime yoga or spin class at a local gym, offering subsidised gym memberships and encouraging the use of stairs instead of using the lift are just some of the ways employers can encourage their staff to be more active, NICE has said.

Data show that one in four people were classed as obese in 2016 up from one in six in 1993. And almost two-thirds of people fall within the overweight or obese category compared with just over half in 1993, according to NHS Digital.

Physical inactivity is as deadly as smoking, according to Public Health England, with one in six deaths caused by a sedentary lifestyle and is estimated to cost £7.4 billion annually (including nearly £1 billion to the NHS alone).

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, said: “If the United Kingdom’s 5.7 million small and medium-sized businesses encouraged their workforce to be more active, they are more likely to reap the benefits of having engaged employees who are more productive and are less likely to take time off sick.

“Simple things like providing secure bicycle storage, showers and changing facilities can go a long way to enabling people to cycle to work or to meetings.

 “As a society, we are facing an obesity crisis caused in part by people not exercising enough. We need people to change their lifestyle and to take more exercise. If they can do this during the working day, not only will they benefit, but so too will their employers and the NHS. It’s a win, win for everyone.”