A new study finds that people who travel more outside of their local area feel they have better health than those who stay close to home.
How often people travel, and the range of places visited is important, with those who regularly travel more than 15 miles away from home more likely to report better health. Furthermore, those travelling to a wider variety of places are more likely to see friends and family.
The researchers from the University College London analysed travel in the north of England, where residents face worse health outcomes than the rest of England, with rural and suburban areas suffering from poorer transport accessibility.
The paper was published in Transport & Health.
How do travel constraints affect health outcomes?
The researchers specifically focused on travel constraints, such as a lack of public transport, and self-rated health, considering trip frequency, the number of different places visited, distance travelled, car use and public transport use.
Lead author Dr Paulo Anciaes (UCL Bartlett School of Environment, Energy & Resources) said: “We expected to find that restrictions on travel through a lack of access to suitable public transport or a private car would be linked to residents’ perception of their health because of the 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 perceived their own health, finding that the key variable is the number of different places people visit outside their local area. This links to more social participation and better health.”
Better health linked with travel
The researchers surveyed 3,014 nationally representative residents in the north of England. It has previously been noted that travel limitations are contributing to economic disadvantage and a lower sense of wellbeing in the region; however, the impact on health outcomes has been minimally studied. The team employed the “path analysis” research method, which looks at the direct and indirect effects of constraints to travel outside of people’s local area.
They found links between travel constraints, social participation and better health are stronger in those aged over 55. Within this group, constraints to the number of different places people can travel to are linked to less frequent contact with friends and participants in clubs and societies.
Dr Anciaes explained: “Those aged over 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 the cities in search of work and good travel options. Meanwhile, older generations are left behind in these areas with limited transport options. The range of places they can visit is low, leading to less social participation and lower levels of general health.
“The results of this study emphasise the need for public policies that reduce constraints to travel in the region, by providing better options for private and public transport that allows for more frequent and longer trips.”