People who travel more outside their local area feel that they are healthier than do those who stay closer to home, say UK researchers.
Travel outside the local area allows people to meet others and access a wider selection of services and opportunities, pointed out the researchers behind a new study published in Transport & Health.
They highlighted that how often people travel, and the range of places visited, played an important role with regards to a person's health and wellbeing. Those who travel to a wider variety of places are more likely to see friends and family, with this increase in social participation being linked to better health, the authors explained.
However, travel can be constrained by the lack of good transport or by personal factors. Constraints to travel have been identified as contributing to economic disadvantage and a lower sense of wellbeing, expressed the authors, "but the impact on health hadn't been analysed before", they said.
"We expected to find that restrictions on travel through a lack of access to suitable public transport or to a private car would be linked to residents' perception of their health because of the lack of social participation," said Dr Paulo Anciaes, from University College London Bartlett School of Environment, Energy & Resources, and lead author of the study.
More Social Participation and Better Health
For their investigation, the researchers set out to study whether these constraints were associated with poor self-rated health, and the extent to which the association was mediated by reduced social participation.
They conducted an online survey of 3014 nationally representative residents in the north of England. Of the respondents 59% were employed, 87% lived in urban areas, and 62% were female.
The team used a technique called 'path analysis', which uncovers the direct and indirect effects of constraints to travel outside of people's local area. They analysed travel in the north of England, where residents face worse health outcomes than the rest of England, and many rural and suburban areas suffer from poor transport accessibility.
Specifically, they looked at the links between perceived constraints to travel outside of the local area, such as a lack of suitable public transport, and self-rated health, considering trip frequency, the number of different places visited, distance travelled, car use, and public transport use.
Dr Anciaes explained how the research team 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.
Openings for Frequent and Longer Trips
The researchers identified that constraints to the number of places visited were associated with reduced social participation. Limitations on trip frequency had a negative association with self-rated health via pathways other than social participation. Constraints to travel distance were not significant and constraints to car use and public transport were associated to self-rated health via other constraints.
"The key variable is the number of different places people visit outside their local area," Dr Anciaes commented, which was linked to "more social participation and better health".
The researchers also explained that: "Those who regularly travel more than 15 miles away from home are more likely to report being in general good health".
The study revealed that the links between travel constraints, social participation, and health, are "stronger among those aged over 55". Among this group, constraints to the number of different places people can travel to is linked to less frequent contact with friends and participation in clubs and societies.
"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," highlighted Dr Anciaes.
"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," he mourned.
Researchers said their results provide "strong evidence" of the need for investment in medium and long-distance transport options, such as better serviced roads and access to trains and buses.
"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," Dr Anciaes said.