Free bus passes may encourage the over 60s to be more physically active, it is claimed.
Researchers found people with a bus pass are “more likely” to walk “frequently”.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health analysed four years of data – from 2005, the year before free bus passes were implemented, until 2008 – for a total of 16,911 people in the UK National Travel Survey.
It is claimed that physical exercise helps to maintain mental wellbeing, mobility and muscle strength in older people and reduces their risk of cardiovascular disease, falls and fractures.
The researchers from Imperial College London cited previous research, which found 15 minutes of moderate daily exercise is associated with a 12% lower risk of death in people over 60.
It is said public health organisations “increasingly believe” that "incidental" exercise, such as walking to and from bus stops, may have a key role to play in helping people keep fit.
Despite the study’s findings, pressures on public spending has led to proposals for the free bus pass in over 60s scheme, which costs £1.1bn a year, to be scrapped, or become means-tested.
Authors of the study have urged for the possible benefits for public health to be taken into consideration when debating the scheme’s survival.
"Given the need to encourage older people to be physically active, it's good news that the provision of free bus passes seems to be having a positive impact," said Sophie Coronini-Cronberg, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, who led the study.
"Before the government looks at reforming the scheme, they should make sure we understand its value to society. We would welcome more research in this area, such as a detailed cost analysis to establish whether the scheme represents good value for money."