BORING pavements in our towns and cities could be made more interesting by adding obstacles to them, and researchers say it could also make us healthier.
Research led by the University of Cambridge’s Department of Architecture found that more than threequarters of adults would choose more challenging routes, such as those featuring stepping stones and balance beams, especially if it was a shortcut.
Although walking is good exercise, it’s even better if it involves balancing and jumping, as these help to build up our muscles and bones. Even exercise such as cycling or swimming don’t help to build our bones up, compared to things like jogging or football, where the bones are repeatedly given small jolts.
Anna Boldina, the lead author of the report, got interested in the subject after moving from the Portuguese countryside to London, where her walking routes were much less challenging. She says that even small changes to activity levels on daily routes can be a big boost to public health if millions of people are involved.
“Our findings show that pedestrians can be nudged into a wider range of physical activities through minor changes to the urban landscape,” she says.
Nearly 600 UK adults were shown various mock-ups of potential walking routes and asked to rate how difficult they looked and whether they’d choose them. Routes were more likely to be chosen if they had handrails and if they cut journey times.
“Children don’t need much encouragement to try out a balance beam but we wanted to see how adults would respond,” says co-author Dr Paul Hanel. “We found that while embarrassment, anxiety, caution and peer pressure can put some adults off, the vast majority of people can be persuaded to take a more challenging route by paying careful attention to design, safety, difficulty level, location and signage [signs].”
The researchers now want to test out their ideas by building some test routes to see if people actually use them and what effects that has.