Forget the easy way - why walks with obstacles are more popular

Forget the easy way – why walks with obstacles are more popular

Forget the easy way – walks with obstacles are more popular, according to a Cambridge study.

The researchers looked at how likely people were to choose a more difficult walking route than a conventional route, and what design features influenced their choices.

Nearly 80% of walkers said they would take a more difficult route rather than a monotonous one.

The results suggest that creating trails with obstacles – such as balance beams and stepping stones – could be a popular way to combat an “inactivity pandemic” and improve overall health, the researchers say.

Although taking a walk is better than being sedentary, doctors say that simply walking does not cause a significant increase in heart rate.

Walking also does not improve balance or bone density – unless it includes jumps, balances and steps.

The team invited nearly 600 UK residents to compare photos of difficult routes and conventional pavement. Paths with obstacles incorporated different elements such as stepping stones, balancing beams and high steps.

Some routes had a mixture of scenarios such as crossing water, shortcuts, unusual carvings, presence or absence of a handrail and other people.

Each participant was asked to rate how difficult they thought the route would be, from one to seven, with one being easy to walk and seven being impossible.

About 80% of study participants opted for a difficult route in at least one of the scenarios, depending on difficulty level and design features.

Need for a “wider range of exercises”

When a difficult option was shorter than a conventional route, it increased the probability of being chosen by 10%. The presence of handrails also reached a 12% increase.

Dr Anna Boldina, lead author from Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture, said: “Even when the increase in level and extent of activity level is modest, when millions of people use the urban landscapes every day, these differences can have a major positive impact on public health.

“Our results show that pedestrians can be nudged toward a wider range of physical activity through minor modifications to the urban landscape. We want to help policy makers and designers make changes that will improve physical health and well-being. .”

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

The NHS recommends doing at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity over a week.

Additionally, adults over the age of 65 are advised to perform strength, flexibility and balance exercises to stay in shape.

Dr Boldina said: “The human body is a very complex machine that needs a lot of things to keep it running efficiently. Cycling and swimming are great for your heart and for your leg muscles, but do very little. for your bone density.

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

Simple changes can make a big difference

Of the participants, 40% said the sight of others taking a difficult route encouraged them to do the same.

Those who chose conventional routes often had concerns about safety, but the introduction of safety measures, such as handrails, increased the adoption of some routes. Handrails next to one of the springboard routes increased attendance by 12%.

To test whether the tendency to choose difficult routes was related to demographic and personality factors, each person answered questions about their age, gender, habits, health, occupation and personality traits.

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

Across all age groups, only a small percentage of participants said they would avoid adventurous options altogether.

The team argues that measures such as installing stepping stones in a grassed area can be cheaper than laying and maintaining conventional tarmac pavement.

They also point out that these measures could save governments much more money by reducing the demand for health care linked to lack of exercise.

The study is published in the journal Landscape Research.

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