Government finally responds to concerns about ‘stay local’ advice for exercise, telling people to use common sense 

‘No government would want to be in a position of needing to restrict something that brings so many benefits to so many people’

(Image credit: Dan Gould/CW)

The government has finally responded to concerns about ‘stay local’ guidance for exercise during the coronavirus lockdown. 

As the UK went back into lockdown at the start of the year, authorities issued restrictions on everyday life in the hope of reducing the spread of Covid-19, including limitations on exercise like cycling and running.  

The current government guidance for exercise in England says people should minimise the time spent outside of their home, but that you can leave home for exercise.  

You can exercise outside by yourself, with the people you live with, with your support bubble, or with one person from another household.

But the guidance also says your exercise should be limited to once per day and you should not travel outside of your local area. 

The government’s guidance caused concern amongst both cyclists and campaign groups, with worries that the vague rules could dissuade people from exercising. 

These concerns sparked charity cycling UK along with governing body British Cycling and British Triathlon to write to the Department for Transport in mid-January, asking for urgent clarification. 

In response, minister for sport Nigel Huddleston has written back to the organisations, saying that people should use “common sense” to define staying local.

Huddleston said: “I appreciate the concerns you raise and agree that sport and physical activity play a crucial role in supporting people to be active and healthy. No government would want to be in a position of needing to restrict something that brings so many benefits to so many people and communities. 

“As you state, people’s circumstances are different and so this guidance relies on people to use their common sense to determine what is and is not a reasonable distance for their outdoor exercise.

"As we navigate these necessary new restrictions, we remain clear on just how important exercise is to people's health and wellbeing, whilst staying safe at home."

Wales has no limits on distance, but guidance says the nearer you stay to your home, the better.

The rules for Scotland say you can exercise up to five miles from the boundary of your local authority area and you must start and finish in the same place.

In Northern Ireland, people are advised not to go more than 10 miles from home during exercise.

Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK, said: “Physical inactivity is responsible for one in six deaths in the UK, so while everyone must comply with coronavirus regulations and guidance around outdoor exercise, it’s also essential for the nation’s health and wellbeing that people aren’t dissuaded from exercise through misinformation and a perception that they’re doing something wrong by trying to stay active, keep themselves healthy, and get some fresh air. 

“We have been inundated with questions about how far and for how long people can cycle or exercise outdoors, and what ‘local’ means, so clarification that some common sense can be applied is extremely helpful, and will hopefully reassure people that they can go for a bike ride, a run or a walk, provided they use their reasonable judgement."

Cycling UK has updated its coronavirus cycling guidance to reflect the latest clarification, encouraging people to cycle but in a manner that minimises risk.

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This includes avoiding crowded or narrow routes where social distancing is difficult to maintain, while also bearing in mind that people may be put at risk if you suffer a mechanical or injury far from home, requiring rescue.  

Cycling UK guidance also says that you should minimise unnecessary travel and that rides should start and end at home, but common sense may dictate that travelling a short distance to a more suitable location is reasonable.

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