Study leader Sophie Coronini-Cronberg of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London and colleagues analyzed four years of data from the U.K. National Travel Survey and found those with a bus pass were more likely to walk frequently and take more journeys via "active travel," defined as walking, cycling or using public transportation.
These associations ran across all socioeconomic groups, suggesting that wealthier and poorer people are benefiting from the free transportation scheme equally, Coronini-Cronberg said.
Previous research showed 15 minutes of moderate daily exercise is associated with a 12 percent lower risk of death is people age 60 and older. This exercise also helps to maintain mental well-being, mobility and muscle strength in older people and reduces their risk of cardiovascular disease, falls and fractures, the study said.
Public health organizations say "incidental" exercise, such as walking to and from bus stops, may have a key role to play in helping people keep fit, Coronini-Cronberg said.
Free bus passes for people 60 and older were introduced in England in 2006, entitling holders to free local bus travel after 9:30 a.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays. However, the recession has led to proposals to cut the program which costs $1.8 billion a year, or for bus passes to be means-tested.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Public Health.