The surprising effect of free bus passes on senior health

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What if the difference between sedentary seniors and active, healthy seniors was as simple as a free bus pass? According to a study from the American Journal of Public Health, a free bus pass is an incentive to seniors to get out and move.[01] Another study in the UK showed that people over 60 with a bus pass were not only more likely to walk regularly, but also more likely to undertake “active travel”—defined as walking, cycling, or using public transport.[02] In a city environment with ample public transit options, bus pass programs like these could be crucial to helping older adults get regular exercise.

The Importance of Physical Activity for Seniors

According to a report from the Surgeon General, the reduction in strength and stamina we associate with getting older results in part from getting less physical activity. And lack of activity is a real problem in our seniors: “By age 75, about one in three men and one in two women engage in no physical activity,” says the report.[03]

This is sobering news. Regular exercise not only reduces the risk of falls and accidents, it also lowers the risk of disease and improves senior mental health. However, there are a number of things communities can do to help, from providing physical activity programs specifically for seniors to encouraging gyms and other exercise facilities to accommodate older adults.


How free bus passes can help

Assuming a community provides sufficient opportunities for its seniors to get active, there is still one issue remaining: transportation. However, it turns out that providing seniors with transportation to parks or exercise facilities has benefits beyond just getting our loved ones to their activities. According to the UK study, seniors with free bus passes were more likely to be physically active in their everyday lives through “active travel.”

Of course, for the purposes of the study, “active travel” included using public transport—but that also includes incidental exercise such as walking to and from the bus stop. Public health professionals now view such incidental activity as significant to many seniors’ overall activity level.

“In Britain, there is evidence that active travel alone is how 19% of adults get their recommended daily exercise,” reported Medical News Today.[04] A free bus pass would enable many seniors, particularly those of low income, to be more active and improve their health and well-being.

Nate Berg of The Atlantic Cities is quick to point out that such a study might have different results in the US: “In the U.S., a similar program might not be able to reach the same goals simply because of the lack of public transit options in many cities and towns.” However, in the cities that do have good bus systems, such a program might be a huge boon to seniors.[05]

How to help your aging parent stay active

Most senior living facilities – including assisted living, memory care, and independent living facilities– offer regular senior-friendly physical activities. These scheduled opportunities to get seniors up and moving are one of the most important services offered by senior living facilities. Group exercise classes are also an excellent way for seniors to socialize.

If your loved one lives at home, perhaps alone, and struggles to stay active, here are some suggestions:

  • Look into local bus passes for senior citizens. Most cities offer some kind of discount for seniors riding the bus or other public transportation options. These can usually be found on the city’s Department of Transportation webpage.
  • Sign your parent up for a local senior center. Senior centers often include daily or weekly exercise classes, such as yoga, tai chi, or swimming aerobics.
  • Teach your parent senior-safe exercises they can do at home. Look into gentle movement exercises, like tai chi.
  • Buy your parent safety equipment, like resistance bands and exercise balls.
  • Offer to go on walks with your parent each week.
  • Plan opportunities that include some physical activity, such as walking around a museum.

If your loved one would benefit from the professional physical and social care at a senior living facility, consider reaching out to one of A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors. They can help you find the right facility at the right price. This service comes at no cost to you or your family.

This article originally appeared on APlaceForMom and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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