Pedestrians choose healthy barriers over boring sidewalks – ScienceDaily

Studies have found that up to 78% of walkers will choose a more challenging route with obstacles such as balance beams, stepping stones and high steps. The findings suggest that providing ‘Active Landscape’ routes in urban areas could help combat an “epidemic of inactivity” and improve health outcomes.

Millions of people in the UK do not meet the recommended targets for physical activity. Exercising “on the go” is key to changing this, but walking on the pavement is better than nothing, it doesn’t cause a significant increase in heart rate, so it only qualifies as light exercise. Walking also does not significantly improve balance or bone density unless it involves jumping, balancing and going down.

But if adults were given the choice, would they prefer such ‘fun’ routes? A University of Cambridge-led study published today in the journal Landscape Research suggests that with the right design most of them will.

Previous research on ‘healthy route choices’ had focused on people’s likelihood of walking rather than transport. But this study looked at how likely people were to choose a more challenging route over a traditional route, and which design features influenced their choices.

Lead author Anna Boldina, from the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge, said: “Even if the increase in activity level and coverage is modest, these differences can have a huge positive impact on public health as millions of people use cityscapes every day.”

“Our findings show that with small changes to the urban landscape, pedestrians can be directed to a wider range of physical activity. We want to help policymakers and designers make changes that improve physical health and well-being.”

Boldina began this research after moving from Coimbra in Portugal, where she found herself climbing hills and ancient walls, to London, where she found it much less physically demanding.

Dr Paul Hanel from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex and Prof. Working with Koen Steemers, Boldina invited around 600 UK residents to compare photorealistic images of challenging routes — featuring stepping stones, balance beams and high steps in various shapes. – with traditional sidewalks.

Participants were shown pictures of challenging and conventional asphalt roads and asked which road they would choose. The researchers tested a number of encouraging/deprecating parameters in different scenarios, including water crossing, shortcuts, unusual statues, and the presence/absence of a handrail and other people. Participants were asked to rate how difficult they thought the route was from 1 (as easy as walking on flat pavement) to 7 (I can’t do that).

Eighty percent of study participants chose a challenging route in at least one of the scenarios, based on perceived difficulty level and design features. In cases where a challenging option was shorter than a traditional route, this increased the probability of being selected by 10%. A 12% increase was achieved in the availability of handrails.

importance for health

WHO and NHS recommend at least 150 minutes of ‘moderate’ or 75 minutes of ‘intense’ activity spread over a week, including a variety of activities aimed at developing bones, muscles and agility to stay healthy. It is also recommended that adults over the age of 65 do strength, flexibility and balance exercises.

“The human body is a very complex machine that needs many things to keep functioning effectively. Cycling and swimming are great for your heart and leg muscles, but do very little for your bone density,” Boldina says.

“To simultaneously improve cardiovascular health, bone density and balance, we need to add a wider range of exercise to our routine daily walks.”

psychology of choice

Co-author Dr Paul Hanel said: “Children don’t need much encouragement to try a balance beam, but we wanted to see how adults would react and then identify design changes that would make them more likely to choose a challenging route.”

“We found that while shame, anxiety, caution, and peer pressure may discourage some adults, the vast majority of people can be persuaded to take a more challenging route by paying attention to design, safety, difficulty level, location, and signs.”

The proportion of respondents willing to choose a more challenging route ranged from 14% for a given balance beam route to 78% for a route with wide, low stepping stones and a log with handrails. The least intimidating routes were found to be those with large, stable-looking balance beams and wide stepping stones, especially with handrails.

The researchers suggest that routes with more difficult challenges, such as obstacle courses and narrow balance beams, should be placed in areas more likely to be frequented by younger users.

Participants expressed various reasons for choosing the challenging routes. Not surprisingly, the study found that challenging routes, which also act as shortcuts, are attractive. Up to 55% of the participants chose these routes. The researchers also discovered that the design of sidewalks, lighting, and flower beds, as well as signage, encouraged participants to choose more challenging routes. Many respondents (40%) said that seeing other people following a difficult route encouraged them to do the same.

Participants who chose traditional roads often had safety concerns, but the introduction of safety measures such as handrails increased the use of some roads. Handrails next to a stepping stone route increased uptake by 12%.

To test whether the tendency to choose challenging routes was linked to demographic and personality factors, participants were asked to answer questions about their age, gender, habits, health, occupation, and personality traits (such as excitement seeking or general anxiety).

The researchers found that people of all levels were equally likely to choose a challenging route. But for the most difficult routes, participants who regularly did strength and balance exercises were more likely to choose them.

Older participants supported the concept as much as younger ones, but were less likely to choose more challenging routes for themselves. However, across all age groups, only a small percentage of respondents said they would avoid adventurous options altogether.

The study applies the idea of ​​”Architecture of Choice” (making good choices easier while making less useful choices difficult) and “Entertainment theory”, a strategy in which physical activity is made more exciting; as well as some basic principles of persuasion: social proof, liking, authority, and consistency.

future job

Researchers hope to conduct experiments in physical testing areas to see how intentions translate into behavior and to measure how changes in habits improve health. Meanwhile, Dr Boldina continues to present her findings to policymakers.

Critics may question the affordability and cost-effectiveness of introducing ‘Active landscape routes’ in the current economic environment.

In response, the researchers argue that installing stepping stones on a grassy area may be less expensive than laying and maintaining traditional asphalt pavements. They also point out that these measures could save governments much more money by reducing the demand for health care that results from a lack of exercise.

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