In a recent study, published in Psychreg Journal of Psychology, UK researchers have revealed that travel advisors (TAs) used in personal travel planning (PTP) interventions significantly increased physical activity (PA) levels in urban, ethnically diverse residential settings. The findings may signal a fresh approach to promoting healthier lifestyles in communities.
The study leveraged the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) to predict intention and PA linked to interactions with TAs. Conducted in Luton, a multicultural town in East England known for high deprivation levels, the research involved 242 residents, split into two groups: one that spoke to TAs (the intervention group) and one that did not (the control group). The TPB components under investigation included “intention”, “attitudes”, “subjective norms”, and “perceived behavioural control”.
The UK Government’s “Local Sustainable Travel Fund” (LTSF) funded this initiative. The LTSF aims to improve local infrastructure, reduce carbon emissions, and increase access to employment and health services, while also promoting increased PA and broader health benefits.
Jolel Miah,PhD, a health psychologist and the lead researcher was one of the first “travel advisors” to knock on the doors in Luton to explore travel habits from residents. Travel advisors offer both information and incentives to people who wanted to particate in this new initiative to encourage sustainable and active forms of transport. What initially began as a summer job soon evolved into a comprehensive PhD research project, seeking to assess the impact of this approach on promoting physical activity and understanding the underlying psychological processes.
Miah explained: “The study’s primary motivations were grounded in a sincere commitment to address the urgent need for effective strategies to foster physical activity in urban communities. Moving forward, the researchers are determined to deepen their investigation into the long-term effects of integrating Travel Advisors into personal travel planning interventions. The study’s outcomes provide compelling evidence for the effectiveness of this approach in promoting physical activity, offering a promising solution to combat sedentary lifestyles in urban, ethnically diverse settings.”
Miah also highlighted the importance of this study: “These noteworthy findings hold the potential to shape targeted interventions and policies aimed at improving public health outcomes. By incorporating Travel Advisors into existing programmes, policymakers can ensure the accessibility and inclusivity of physical activity initiatives, ultimately contributing to the well-being of individuals within diverse residential communities.”
TAs, under the “Travel Luton” initiative, engaged with residents about their travel habits and encouraged them to consider more sustainable and active forms of transportation. In addition to promoting environmental and economic benefits, the TAs offered “travel challenges” and incentives as part of the scheme. The participant’s PA levels were assessed three times: baseline (approximately two weeks after the TA intervention), six months post-baseline, and 12 months post-baseline.
The results were strikingly positive. The intervention group consistently reported significantly higher levels of physical activity at each of the three assessment points. Participants in this group showed more significant interaction effects for all TPB constructs, suggesting that interaction with TAs may lead to a more proactive mindset towards active travel and physical activity.
Interestingly, even the control group recorded a slight increase in physical activity over time, though the level was much lower than the TA group. The researchers suggest this could be due to broader exposure to PTP intervention or improvements to infrastructure.
This research is groundbreaking as it delves into an unexplored territory – the impact of using TAs in PTP projects on residents’ physical activity. Not only does it highlight the potential of PTP interventions to drive behaviour change, but it also emphasises the value of human interaction in promoting active lifestyles.
The researchers argue that although the study’s findings are encouraging, further research over an extended period is needed to validate these results. Despite this, the study undeniably adds critical insights into promoting healthier behaviours through PTP interventions.
In an era where sedentary lifestyles pose significant public health challenges, such innovative approaches to promoting physical activity can be transformative. By capitalising on infrastructure improvements and targeted behavioural interventions, it is possible to create a healthier, more active future for urban communities.