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Study Finds How Free Bus Passes Can Help Boost Health in Older Adults

Update Date: Sep 21, 2012 08:02 AM EDT

A new study by researchers from Imperial College London has associated free bus passes to healthier living.

According to the study, those above the age of 60, who hold free bus passes, travel more frequently and stay more active.

For the study, the researchers analyzed four years of data from the UK National Travel Survey and found that people with bus passes stayed more active by frequently walking and going on journeys more often, cycling and using public transport. This was found to be true for people of all socio-economic groups, which suggests that the rich and the poor benefit equally from the scheme.

Physical activity has been associated with mental wellbeing for people of all age groups. In older adults, especially, more physical activity means more muscle strength, and in turn, a reduction in their risk of falls and fractures apart from a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease

A previous study has revealed that about 19 percent of British adults fulfill their daily requirement of physical activity by active travel alone. Also, quite a few public health organizations believe that "incidental" exercise, such as walking to and from bus stops, may be significant in keeping people fit.

Free bus passes enable people to take free local bus travel after 9:30 a.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays.

While there have been proposals to scrap the scheme in order to cut down public spending, the supporters of the scheme claim that in older people, the scheme helps reduce social exclusion and also ensures access to travel for those with limited incomes.

"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."

The data analyzed by researchers had a total of 16,911 respondents including those aged 60 and above in England. The findings further reveal that the most important reason behind people not using active travel is because they own cars.

It was found that people in rural areas were more likely to use public transport and walk more often when compared to people from urban sectors. 

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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