Options for natural stone pavings: the sporting effect of walking could be enhanced by an “active landscape design“

An “active landscape design“ offers citizens plenty of opportunity for physical activity. Rendering: Anna Boldina

It is about balancing beams and stepping stones with handrails giving the feeling of security

A University of Cambridge-led study showed that with the right design, most adults would opt for ‘fun’ routes if given a choice: Up to 78% of walkers would take a more challenging route featuring obstacles such as balancing beams, steppingstones and high steps with provide physical exercise; a more “active landscape design“ for urban routes could help tackle an “inactivity pandemic” and improve health outcomes.

This opens a variety of options for pavings with natural stone.

Millions of people in the UK fail to meet recommended targets for physical activity. Exercising “on the go“ is key to changing this but while walking along a pavement is better than nothing, it causes no significant increase in heart rate, so it only qualifies as mild exercise. Walking fails to significantly improve balance or bone density especially important for the elder, unless it includes jumping, balancing, and stepping down.

Some of the findings of the study:
* The participants who picked conventional routes often had concerns about safety, but the introduction of safety measures, such as handrails, increased uptake of some routes.
* The most inviting routes were found to be those with wide, steady-looking balancing beams and wide stepping stones, especially with the presence of handrails.
* More difficult challenges, such as obstacle courses and narrow balancing beams, should be placed in areas more likely to be frequented by younger users, according to the researchers.
* Unsurprisingly, the study found that challenging routes, which also acted as shortcuts appealed. Up to 55% of participants chose such routes.
* The researchers also found that the design of pavements, lighting, and flowerbeds, as well as signage helped to nudge participants to choose more challenging routes.
* Many participants (40%) said the sight of other people taking a challenging route encouraged them to do the same.

To test whether 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 sensation seeking or general anxiety).
The researchers found that people of all activity levels are equally likely to pick a challenging route. But for the most difficult routes, participants who regularly engaged in strength and balancing exercises were more likely to choose them.

Older participants were as supportive of the concept as younger ones but were less likely to opt for the more challenging routes for themselves. Nevertheless, only a small percentage of participants across all age groups said they would avoid adventurous options completely.

The study applies the idea of “Choice Architecture” (making good choices easier and less beneficial choices harder) plus “Fun theory”, a strategy whereby physical activity is made more exciting; as well as some of the key principles of persuasion: social proof, liking, authority, and consistency.

A. Boldina et al., ‘Active Landscape and Choice Architecture: Encouraging the use of challenging city routes for fitness’, Landscape Research (2022). DOI: 10.1080/01426397.2022.2142204

(13.12.2022USA: 12.13.2022)