THE Northern Echo's Chance to Live campaign took a step in the direction of Downing Street this week when members of the Cabinet agreed to join the hundreds of readers who are walking their way to better health and a better future.

Health Secretary and Darlington MP Alan Milburn persuaded some Government colleagues to give up their ministerial limos and stride out in pursuit of fitness.

Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong, Culture Minister Tessa Jowell, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, Labour Party Secretary John Reid and Pensions Minister Andrew Smith are all wearing the Step-O-Meters, which were offered by the Countryside Agency to 1,000 Echo readers last year.

Walking is one of the best ways to stay healthy into old age, and experts consider a couple of brisk 15-minute walks five days a week is sufficient.

The Step-O-Meters help people monitor how far they walk and increase their fitness regime by counting every step they take.

Mr Milburn found out for himself how inactive most people are when he was given a machine by his counterpart in the US, Tommy Thompson.

He said yesterday: "The Northern Echo campaign is already making a real difference to people feeling healthy and living longer."

Ms Armstrong, MP for North-West Durham, was impressed to find that she had clocked up a healthy 11,225 steps walking around the House of Commons and Downing Street.

The Northern Echo has been campaigning to give people the chance to live since photographer Ian Weir, 38, from Darlington, died of a heart attack after waiting seven months to talk to a hospital consultant about life-saving surgery.

Mr Milburn helped The Echo step up the campaign in November when the newspaper teamed up with Wear Valley District Council, Durham Dales Primary Care Trust and Northumbrian Water to launch a year of community healthy living events promoting exercise and good diet.

Read more about the A Chance To Live campaign here.