More people who are obese and inactive should be prescribed exercise classes at local leisure centres, according to councils.

New analysis from the District Councils’ Network (DCN), which commissioned experts at the University of East Anglia, suggests nearly a third of people currently do less than 30 minutes of physical activity per week.

The report found that if GPs prescribed local leisure services to one million inactive people over the next decade this could avoid thousands of cases of disease, save the NHS more than £300 million and extend people’s lives by about 3.7 years.

The DCN is calling on the Government to invest in local sport and leisure services, which it argues already have close community links and can work with groups such as charities to focus on hard-to-reach groups.

Your Local Guardian: This programme could help save the NHS more than £300 million (PA)This programme could help save the NHS more than £300 million (PA)

This action is being suggested because council-operated gyms, sports halls and swimming pools have been struggling financially in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

According to the DCN, councils are the biggest provider of leisure and fitness services in the country, owning 2,727 leisure centres, 33% of all swimming pools and 31% of the grass pitches in England.

Angie Dale, healthy communities spokeswoman for the DCN, said: “As we emerge from the pandemic, it is vital we embrace this as an opportunity to get the nation fit and healthy, and to continue protecting and supporting our NHS by preventing illness and disease where we can.

“Our new report shows conclusively that local leisure centres can play a vital role in keeping people fit, and prescribing these services to people can increase life expectancy by up to four years.

“By providing long-term investment and integrating our councils’ excellent leisure and wellbeing services into health systems, we can increase life expectancy and tackle growing health inequalities. This is levelling up in action.

“Most of the wider determinants of public health are not dictated by the NHS or local health bodies, but by the factors of everyday life that district-level services help to shape.”

Just 3% of adults with a recording of being overweight or obese in primary care in England have been referred to weight management programmes by their GP.