This study measured the effectiveness of stepping stones as an element of landscape design – to make walking a more effective form of exercise for health.  The average increase in heart rate due to steppingstones was 17.22%.  In conclusion, we estimate that stepping stones can significantly increase peoples metabolic and physiological parameters, and can help the wider population to achieve the recommended government and health guidelines of ‘moderate exercise’ of 150 min/week, improving population health. This new evidence can help designers to implement ‘Active Urbanism’ strategies. 

For the attention of: City authorities, urban designers, landscape architects

The problem: The range and variety of movement has been and is being eliminated from urban environments. These are often designed for lowest level of agility and ability, even where there is enough space to provide other more challenging options. A lack of opportunities and nudging of people to exercise as a separate activity from everyday walking is leading to inactivity pandemic resulting in cardio-respiratory problems.

What we did and why: To bridge the gap between physiological theory and the application in urban design, we designed a combination experiment. This included 26 participants walking on a plain treadmill in a laboratory, and then stepping stone imitations at the same speed. Physiological data was collected and compared using a heart rate monitor and a breath-by-breath metabolic system. This was supplemented by a questionnaire about body reactions and likelihood to perform a similar exercise in a life situation.

What our study adds: This study adds a new criteria to consider designing urban landscapes. It supportes opportunities and encouragement for ‘moderate exercise’ (increasing breathing and heart rate) to help make the population healthier.

Implications for city policy and practice: New criteria can be applied through adding steppingstones to public realm, creating adventurous landscapes in parks and boulevards, without affecting accessibility. We must reconsider the balance between risk of falling now; and health deterioration over years.

For further information: Anna Boldina – Active urbanism research and design: Landscape design research encouraging physical activity

Full research article: Active urbanism: heart rate and oxygen consumption comparison when walking on imitation steppingstones versus a plain surface by Anna Boldina, Henry C. Chung, Amândio Manuel Cupido Santos & Koen Steemers