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Dawdlers Demand a Challenging Walk

By John Salak


Well, good for us. People don’t always take the easy way out, at least when it comes to walking, which may provide urban planners a sly way to the juice of exercise options for people needing a bit of a push.

Researchers from Britain’s renowned University of Cambridge found that up to 78 percent of walkers—which includes your casual dawdlers—are more than happy to take more challenging and physically demanding routes that feature obstacles such as balance beams, steppingstones and high steps.

The Cambridge team suggests its findings could encourage urban planners to include “active landscapes” that might help tackle what university’s researchers called the “inactivity pandemic” that confronts city dwellers.

Millions of people worldwide are failing to meet recommended targets for physical activity. Walking qualifies as exercise, and approximately 30 percent of Americans cite it as their activity of choice. That is a positive, but as the British researchers noted, basic walking only qualifies as mild exercise. It doesn’t significantly enhance or improve balance or bone density unless it includes jumping, balancing and stepping down.

The Cambridge study, therefore, focused on examining how likely people are to pick a more challenging route over a conventional one to get this exercise boost and which design characteristics influenced their choices.

“Even when the increase in level and extent of activity level is modest, when millions of people are using cityscapes every day, those differences can have a major positive impact on public health,” reported lead author Anna Boldina. “Our findings show that pedestrians can be nudged into a wider range of physical activities through minor changes to the urban landscape. We want to help policymakers and designers to make modifications that will improve physical health and wellbeing.”

The average walker is game, according to the results from the 600 participants in the Cambridge study. Given various route options and perceived difficulty levels—longer versus shorter, obstacles and unusual sculptures—80 percent of the participants opted for a challenging route in at least one of the scenarios presented.

Of course, the benefits of a healthy and challenging walk won’t happen if the routes aren’t there to tackle. That’s where urban planners need to come into play by setting up various courses. The hoi polloi is game to take a walk.

 

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