As much fun as traveling is for most people, many find it tedious and would instead remain within five blocks of their comfort zones at all times. Many others yearn for nothing more than to take a little trip out to visit new places or family and friends but can’t, due to one limitation or the other. Now, according to a new study from the University College London, being unable to travel, either by choice or circumstance, can be a significant personal disservice.
Researchers at UCL believe that traveling at least 15 miles from home works wonders for your physical and mental well-being, especially for people older than 55. They also think that being unable to do so due to constraints like living in a poorly connected area or lack of access to suitable transport, negatively impacts one’s health.
With suitable systems to limit constraints comes an increase in travel frequency, allowing for one of traveling’s most important benefits – social participation. Numerous studies have shown that social interactions—be it with close family or some stranger on a trip—contributes to better psychological, mental, and self-rated health. This is particularly with older adults, where it decreases loneliness and prompts physical activity.
“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” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Paulo Anciaes.
To arrive at their findings, the researchers sent out an online questionnaire to 3,014 residents of Northern England, a region associated with the worst health outcomes in the country.
They assessed the participants’ perceived constraints to travel, such as poor public transport options, their self-rated health status, and their levels of social participation, and then tested for associations between all three using a method called ‘path analysis’.
The study’s results established a connection between constraints to travel, social participation, and health status. It showed that participants who experienced different travel constraints rarely saw family and friends, or had no social membership in clubs and societies testified to being of poor health.
The percentage of participants who reported being of bad or very bad health was significantly higher among those with very little social participation, particularly those who saw family and friends less than once a month and had no memberships in clubs and societies, most of whom were over the age of 55.
“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.”
Unlike the younger generation who can essentially pack up and leave in little or no time regardless of constraints, the older generation faces more of a challenge, particularly in areas with limited transport options. This necessitates the need for policies and systems that favors them, making long trips easier and more frequent.