Summary: People who frequently travel 15 or more miles from home report better overall health.
People who travel more outside their local area feel healthier than those who stay closer to home, finds a new study by UCL researchers.
How often people travel and the range of places they visit matter, with those who regularly travel more than 15 miles from home are more likely to report being in good overall health.
Those who travel to a wider variety of places are more likely to see friends and family. This increase in social participation is therefore linked to better health.
The researchers say the findings provide strong evidence for the need for investment in medium- and long-distance transportation options, such as better-served roads and access to trains and buses.
For the newspaper, published in Transport and healthresearchers looked at travel to the north of England, where residents face worse health conditions than the rest of England and many rural and suburban areas suffer from poor transport accessibility.
In particular, they examined the links between perceived constraints for traveling outside the local area, such as lack of adequate public transport, and self-rated health, considering the frequency of trips, the number of different places visited, the distance travelled, car use and use of public transport.
The lead author, Dr. Paulo Anciaes (UCL Bartlett School of Environment, Energy & Resources), said: ‘We expected to find that travel restrictions due to lack of access to adequate public transport or a private car would be linked to residents’ perceptions of the their health due to lack of social participation.
“We explored the links between constraints to travel more than 15 miles from home, demographics and location, and social participation in how residents perceive their health, finding that the key variable is how many different places people visit outside their local area. This is linked to greater social participation and better health.”
Researchers conducted an online survey of 3,014 nationally representative residents of the north of England. Travel constraints have previously been identified as contributing factors to economic disadvantage and a lower sense of well-being in the region, but the health impact had not been analyzed before.
The team used a research technique called ‘route analysis’, which uncovers the direct and indirect effects of constraints to travel outside people’s local area.
The study found that the links between travel constraints, social participation and health are strongest among people over the age of 55. In this group, the constraints on the number of different places people can go are related to less frequent contact with friends and participation in clubs and societies.
Dr. Anciaes explained: “People over the age of 55 are more likely to face other constraints to travel such as limited mobility. They are also more likely to suffer from loneliness. In the north of England, rural and suburban areas with limited access options are more likely to experience population loss as young people move to cities looking for work and good travel options.
“Meanwhile, older generations are left behind in these areas with limited transportation options. The range of places they can visit is low, resulting in lower social participation and lower levels of overall health.
“The findings of this study underscore the need for public policies that ease travel constraints in the region by providing better options for private and public transportation that enable more frequent and longer journeys.”
About this health research and travel news
Author: Chris Lane
Contact: Chris Lane – UCL
Image: Image is public domain
Original research: The results will appear in Transport and health