CENTRAL Victorians' health may improve in the long term if they stick to exercise habits developed during social distancing, experts say.
Parks and pathways have regularly been full of walkers, cyclists and runners since rules to slow the spread of COVID-19 limited Victorians' activities.
The City of Greater Bendigo has reported a 100 to 120 per cent increase on its key walking and cycling tracks in April, compared to the same time in 2019.
Central Victorian obesity rates sit above the national average, at close to 40 per cent in some shires.
La Trobe University Bendigo exercise science lecturer Stephen Cousins said it was fantastic to see more people exercising.
Dr Cousins had noticed an "exponential" increase in the number of people around the city's walking tracks since restrictions began.
He said extra activity would have positive effects on people's health, ranging from reducing their risk of disease, to increased functionality, or better strength, fitness or endurance.
Dr Cousins said people's physical and psychological health would improve in the long term if they kept lockdown exercise habits up.
He said clean, safe and appealing facilities were key to keeping people using walking and cycling paths.
"As little of 20 to 30 minutes of just low to moderate intensity walking basis using those facilities would be enough to drive some type of benefit," he said.
"I'd also like to see first line healthcare workers, primarily GP, advertise and promote this as almost a form of medicine."
VicHealth executive manager of programs Kirstan Corben said amid the challenges of COVID-19 she was also seeing really positive changes, across all age groups. She said VicHealth wanted to make sure the changes stuck.
"Many people are out and about in their local communities walking and cycling," Ms Corben said.
"People are really valuing these change. People are really loving being out and about in their local community."
Ms Corben said the change in people's behaviour was obvious as soon as restrictions came into place and had been sustained over time.
She said physical activity could bring immediate benefits to people's health, such as strength, endurance and mental wellbeing.
Ms Corben said the change could hopefully lead to permanent shifts in the health of people in central Victoria, if it was sustained and combined with healthier meals cooked at home.
"The long term health gains that we will get if people continue it ... will be fantastic," she said.
"By seeing more people walking and cycling in their local communities generally on a daily basis we will have increasing numbers of people meeting those physical activity guidelines. So meeting enough physical activity to get some health gains."
But Ms Corben said increased rates of physical activity seen in lockdown would not be enough to fix Australia's obesity problem overall.
"It's not an issue that we can just educate our way out of," she said.
"The issue is far greater than that. We have huge influences from our food industry, thinking about people who manufacture food and retail food.
"Not surprisingly they put profits ahead of the health of the community."
Ms Corben said walking and cycling in the local community was also really important for economic recovery.
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