According to a new study led by researchers at UCL, people who frequently travel outside of their local area feel that they are in better health than those who stay closer to home.

People who go out of their hometowns at least once a month and travel more than 15 miles away from home on such trips are more likely to report feeling healthy overall.

Those who visit more of the world are more likely to reconnect with old friends and relatives. Social engagement improves health.

The findings, according to researchers, provide a strong ground for the need to invest in medium- and long-distance transport options, such as improved roads and easier access to trains and buses.

The study, which was published in the journal Transport & Health, examined travel in the north of England, where many rural and suburban regions have low transportation accessibility and inhabitants have poorer health outcomes than those in the rest of England.

The researchers examined the relationship between perceived barriers to travel outside of the local area, including limited access to public transportation, and self-assessed health. They took into account factors such as the frequency of travel, the number of different destinations visited, the distance traveled, the use of private vehicles, and the use of public transportation.

“We expected to find that restrictions,” says lead author Dr. Paulo Anciaes, “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.

“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.”

To conduct the study, the researchers conducted an online survey of 3,014 residents in the north of England. This region has previously been identified as experiencing economic disadvantage and lower levels of well-being due to travel constraints, but the impact of these constraints on health had not been previously analyzed. The team used a statistical technique called “path analysis” to identify the direct and indirect effects of constraints on travel outside of the local area. This was the first study of its kind to examine this issue.

According to the study, the connections between travel constraints, social participation, and health are particularly strong among individuals aged 55 and over. In this age group, constraints on the number of destinations that can be visited were found to be associated with less frequent contact with friends and decreased participation in clubs and social organizations.

According to Dr. Anciaes, Older individuals, particularly those over the age of 55, are more likely to face additional travel constraints such as reduced mobility and may be more prone to feelings of 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.”

This leaves older generations in these areas with limited transportation options and a restricted range of places they can visit, leading to reduced social participation and overall poorer health.

The study’s findings highlight the need for public policies to ease regional travel restrictions by enhancing private and public transportation alternatives and enabling longer and more frequent visits.

Source: 10.1016/j.jth.2022.101535

Image Credit: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images


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