If the thought of public transport makes you roll your eyes and reach anxiously for your car keys, read on. A growing body of research shows that swapping the car for the bus or train might be one of the best things you could do for your physical and mental health.
It’s well publicised that travelling by public transport is generally better for the environment than taking the car, but what about the health benefits? Could sitting on a bus actually make you fitter, healthier and happier? It sounds incredible, but it might just be true.
One reason is that people who use public transport have been shown, on average, to do four times as much exercise as motorists – usually through walking or cycling to and from bus stops and train stations. A few ten-minute walks might not seem much, but bear in mind that just 30 minutes exercise a day reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimers and 13 different types of cancer. In fact, getting the bus or train could mean that you meet the NHS recommended exercise requirements without ever setting foot in a gym.
And physical health is only part of the picture. Multiple studies have also pointed to the positive effect of commuting by public transport on mental health, compared to driving. Separate studies carried out in New South Wales, Australia and in Skåne, southern Sweden found a correlation between driving to work and feeling unhappy, while a study of 18,000 UK workers by the University of East Anglia also concluded that those who commuted by public transport were generally happier and slept better than those who drove. Researchers put the difference down to the fact that taking the bus or train gives time for reading and daydreaming, as well as more opportunity for social interaction, all of which help to reduce stress.
It isn’t just workers who benefit, either. A 2018 study found that the issuing of free bus passes for pensioners in the UK has helped to increase social interaction amongst the elderly, which in turn helps to reduce loneliness and depression, and to improve memory and cognitive function. And more social interaction, coupled with the opportunity for greater independence, was also cited in a study by the Swedish University of Karlstad to explain their findings that children who walked, cycled or took the bus to school were generally happier than those who were dropped off in a car.
All of which gives pause for thought and suggest that perhaps The Who were right all along. That bus, maybe it really is magic.
Take a moment to fill good and listen to The Who Magic Bus!
Photo by @elizabeth.lies