LONDON — Working from home may not be as good for you as commuting after all, a new study suggests. Researchers at University College London report that traveling more than 15 miles from home regularly is better for your mental and physical well-being.
The UCL team found living in a poorly-connected area had a negative impact on health, particularly in those over the age of 55. Older adults are more likely to suffer mobility issues and loneliness, while younger people often move to the big cities. People who traveled often were more likely to visit more places and to catch up with friends and family on a regular basis.
The researchers say their findings show society needs to invest in medium and long-distance transport options, such as better roads and greater access to trains and buses. Study authors analyzed travel in the north of England, where locals face worse health outcomes than the rest of the U.K. — with many rural and suburban areas being badly connected.
Using a 3,014-person questionnaire sent to northern England residents, the researchers assessed how people’s perceived constraints on traveling far from home – such as poor public transport options – impacted how they rated their own health. They measured how often people traveled, as well as how many places they went, how far they went, whether they used a car and public transport.
“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,” says lead author Dr. Paulo Anciaes from the UCL Bartlett School of Environment, Energy & Resources in a media release.
“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.”
“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,” Dr. Anciaes continues.
“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 emphasize 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,” the researcher concludes.
Until now, studies have not looked at the impact of poor access to travel on health. Previous reports focused on poor transport connections creating at a lower sense of well-being and economic disadvantage among commuters. Using “path analysis,” the researchers uncovered the direct and indirect toll of people struggling to travel beyond their local area.
The findings are published in the journal Health and Transport.
South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.