The amount of sick leave taken in the UK could be cut by a whopping two million days if only workers could be encouraged to take more exercise, according to a new study.
The research by consultancy Deloitte found that fewer than half (48 per cent) of UK workers exercised enough to meet the government's recommended target of 150 minutes of exercise a week.
If this number could be raised to 70 per cent, the result would be 2,783,808 fewer days taken off sick, and a saving to the economy of £487 million.
The survey of more than 10,000 people in the UK found those who exercised for fewer than the recommended 150 minutes per week took an average of 3.5 sick days.
This compared with those who exercised more than the recommended amount, who took three sick days off a year.
People who exercised more than 150 minutes also visited the doctor and hospital less, averaging 1.9 visits compared with 2.6 visits by those who exercised less.
Adrian Balcombe, Deloitte partner specialising in the fitness industry, said: "The benefits of a fitter population would be felt throughout the economy.
"There would be a reduced burden on the NHS and insurers would face fewer health-related claims," he added.
"A population more motivated to exercise could boost revenues for health club and leisure centre operators, employers would see increased productivity through reduced absenteeism and people would enjoy a healthier lifestyle with reduced risk of illness," he concluded.
For almost half the people surveyed walking was their main form of exercise, followed by jogging or running and swimming.
When walking was excluded, health clubs were the most popular places to exercise, but only 17 per cent were members of a club, although more than a quarter were lapsed members.
"Health clubs and leisure centres need to work harder to improve usage by their members and users which will in turn improve retention," said Balcombe.
"Two thirds of lapsed members said they would consider rejoining if they were offered cheaper or subsidised membership. Another 42 per cent cited more flexible membership options such as pay as you go or off-peak membership," he added.