Mall Walking: Your Best Gym May Be the MallMall Walking

Walking is one of the best exercise programs going—all you need is a pair of shoes and a place to walk. But a safe, comfortable place to walk isn’t always easy to find, especially if you live in an area without sidewalks, with lots of winter snow and ice, or with several months of summer heat. Weather and walkability are two of the main reasons that geriatricians recommend mall walking for their patients. But there are other advantages, too.

Your fellow mall-walkers can keep you motivated. The NIH’s National Institute on Aging lists motivation as one of the top benefits of walking at the mall. Don’t expect the typical competitive motivation you find at the gym, though. Mall walkers are usually more interested in catching up with one another’s social lives than passing each other by. Those social ties can spur you to get to the mall for your chat session—and your walk.

Malls are outfitted for comfort and safety. Parks and hiking trails are great options for walkers who don’t need frequent breaks and don’t mind the weather. At the mall, though, benches, water fountains, and restrooms are just a few strides away. Climate control means year-round comfort while you exercise. Most malls have security guards on staff to ensure a safe environment and help with emergencies.

Most malls are easily accessible. There’s usually a train or bus stop adjacent to the mall, and some senior living communities run shuttle transport to and from nearby malls for walking and shopping. Inside the mall, elevators, escalators, and wide level walking surfaces make it easy for walkers of all mobility levels to get around and get a good workout.

Worried about holding your own in a crowd of busy shoppers? Many malls open their common areas to walkers before the stores open each morning. Another upside to going early: there’s no possibility of impulse purchases.

Find a mall-walking program near you. Call your local mall’s guest services office or drop by in person to ask about mall walking availability and hours. Guest services staffers can give you information about parking and public transportation schedules and stops near the mall.

You can also look online for mall-walking information. For example, The Shops at Willow Bend in the Dallas suburb of Plano offers a mall-walking program, with tips for new walkers and information on regularly scheduled blood-pressure checks and public talks by Medical Center of Plano doctors.

Some malls, such as Minnesota’s Mall of America, partner with local medical centers to develop 1-mile, 5K and 10K route maps for their mall-walking guests. Others have “mile markers” posted inside the mall for walkers to track their progress.

Consider starting a mall-walking program if there are none nearby. The Centers for Disease Control’s 56-page guide offers a step-by-step (see what we did there?) approach to mall-walking program development. It contains research-based benefits to mall-walking, tips for approaching mall management and possible community partners, and staffing, PR, and accessibility suggestions.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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