Working from home (WFH) may not be as good for you as commuting after all, suggests a new study. The findings were published in the journal Health and Transport.
Researchers found that commuting more than 15 miles from home regularly is better for mental and physical well-being.
People who traveled often were likely to visit more places and to catch up with friends and family on a more regular basis, according to the findings.
The University College London (UCL) research team found living in a poorly connected area had a negative impact on health, particularly in those over the age of 55.
Over-55s are more likely to suffer mobility issues and loneliness, while young people often move on to the big cities.
The researchers say their findings show society needs to invest in medium and long-distance transport options, such as better services roads and greater access to trains and buses.
They analyzed travel in the north of England, where locals face worse health outcomes than the rest of the country and many rural and suburban areas are badly connected.
Using a 3,014-person questionnaire sent to north of England residents, the researchers assessed how people’s perceived constraints on traveling far from home – such as poor public transport – impacted how they rated their own health.
How often people travelled away was measured, as well as how many places they went, how far they went, whether they used a car, and whether they used public transport.
Lead author Dr. Paulo Anciaes, of UCL Bartlett School of Environment, Energy & Resources, said: “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.
“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.
“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.”
Anciaes added: “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.”
Until now studies have not looked at the impact of poor travel on health, and previously focussed on poor transport connections creating at a lower sense of wellbeing and economic disadvantage.
Using “path analysis” the researchers uncovered the direct and indirect toll of people struggling to travel beyond their local area.
“Working alone all day every day, particularly when my partner is in the office, is tough,” says one remote worker in London stated to the BBC. “Sometimes, I won’t see anyone all day, which can be very lonely. I’ve found that instead of taking breaks to chat to people in my office, I pick up my phone. All of the extra screen time has definitely had a negative impact on my wellbeing.”
Remote work has been heralded as a solution to some of the problems of our fast-paced, pre-pandemic lifestyles. For many, it’s meant the opportunity to spend more time with their children, or use time that they would have previously wasted commuting pursuing more fulfilling hobbies. But new research into remote work and wellbeing has shown mixed results – in Microsoft’s 2022 New Future of Work Report, researchers found that although remote work can improve job satisfaction, it can also lead to employees feeling “socially isolated, guilty and trying to overcompensate”.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker.