Active travel: A mental health solution

By Saumya Jain

A recent study from the Netherlands found that while active travel might not affect body weight, it does have a significant positive impact on a traveler’s mental health. In a global health crisis, where it is crucial to stay home to slow the spread of the virus, many of us have also been going through cabin fever and the many mental health challenges that accompany it. Walking and biking outdoors while following social distancing guidelines might just be our best bet at combating these feelings of isolation and loneliness.

For this new study published in the Journal of Transport & Health, the researchers observed the relationship between active travel, body-mass index (BMI), and mental health. Through previous studies, it has been established that the three variables studied in this research have a confusing bidirectional relationship. The results from this study suggest that while active travel does not predict BMI, the decrease in BMI levels as a result of healthy eating habits and physical exercise does result in the uptake of active travel. Conversely, an increase in BMI was associated with decreased affinity toward active travel. On the other hand, the researchers observed a strong relationship between active travel and the traveler experiencing positive emotions. Though not as significant, the researchers also observed that improvements in mental health can influence an increase in active travel.

This study emphasizes that promoting a healthy lifestyle and providing safe active transportation choices can both help improve mental health and motivate people to walk and bike more for both leisure as well as commuting. As we prepare for the post-pandemic world, now, more than ever, people need safe and protected ways of getting out and about.

Saumya Jain is a Senior Associate at SSTI.