Study finds link between free bus pass and physical activity
Researchers in the United Kingdom have discovered that people aged 60 and over would be compelled to increase their physical activity if they are given free bus passes. Their study, which is presented in the American Journal of Public Health, further cements what health experts have always said: keep active to improve your well-being, and in turn maintain a healthy and longer life.
Imperial College London researchers evaluated four years of data from the UK National Travel Survey. People who possess bus passes are more likely to walk frequently and take more journeys by 'active travel', which includes walking, cycling or using public transport, compared to individuals that do not have a bus pass. According to the researchers, these associations cut across socioeconomic groups, indicating there is a balance between the richer and poorer people that benefit from the scheme.
Older people who are active maintain mental well-being, mobility and muscle strength. Doing so also cuts their risk of cardiovascular disease, falls and fractures. Researchers observed in the past, that 15 minutes of moderate daily exercise was linked to a 12 % lower risk of death in people aged 60 and over. Meanwhile, 19 % of adults in the United Kingdom get their recommended amount of physical activity through active travel alone, another study found.
A growing number of public health organisations claim that 'incidental' exercise, including walking to and from bus stops, could also give people a reason to keep fit.
People over 60 started getting free bus passes in England 6 years ago. Under the plan, people can travel on local buses for free, after 9:30 am on weekdays and all day during weekends and public holidays. The researchers said that pressure on public spending has resulted in proposals for the scheme, which has an annual cost of GBP 1.1 billion, to be abolished, or for bus passes to be means-tested.
Those who support the scheme say it mitigates social exclusion among older people and guarantees access to travel regardless of income levels. Potential benefits for public health should be considered as well, the researchers said.
'Given the need to encourage older people to be physically active, it's good news that the provision of free bus passes seems to be having a positive impact,' said Sophie Coronini-Cronberg, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, who led the study.
'Before the government looks at reforming the scheme, they should make sure we understand its value to society. We would welcome more research in this area, such as a detailed cost analysis to establish whether the scheme represents good value for money.'
Data Source Provider: American Journal of Public Health; Imperial College London
Document Reference: Coronini-Cronberg, S. et al. 'The impact of free older persons' bus pass on active travel and regular walking in England', Am. J. Public Health, published 20 September 2012. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300946
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Life Sciences; Medicine, Health; Scientific Research; Social Aspects