The Many Health and Fitness Benefits of Walking in Shopping Malls

Some malls are gone, but walkers still want to enjoy the physical and social benefits

Mall stores are closing and David Brown shudders to think of what mall walkers can also do when malls close.

Credit: Adobe

By title, Brown is a behavior scientist in the nutrition, physical activity, and obesity division of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because of his expertise, Brown is a person of choice for exercise and the elderly. What makes the mall walk a field of dreams in his field of vision.

In 2015, Brown co-authored the CDC report, “Walking in a Mall: A Guide to Program Resources”. Her goal was to explain the benefits of walking and strategize for developing walking programs in malls and elsewhere.

“What I discovered while helping put together the malls walking guide is how popular these programs are,” Brown said. “People who gravitate to malls to walk are very dedicated. It is very unusual. One of our challenges is to get people moving and to get them moving. “

That same year, the Surgeon General launched the “Step it Up! ”Program, a“ call to action to promote pedestrian and pedestrian communities ”. Why not turn off our phones, pull out the old warm-up suits and go to the mall?

Building social camaraderie at the mall

“I can’t think of another option that tackles so many barriers to physical activity,” says Brown, “especially with the elderly. “

Flat surface ? Climate control? Places to sit? And to hydrate? And to relieve yourself after all this water? Yeah.

Shopping center on foot

Credit: Compliments from Mike Bass

Low cost for people on fixed incomes? What would you say no Cost? A sense of security? There’s mall security, and the other walkers will see if you need help – and be concerned if you don’t show up.

While some prefer to walk alone, others like and even need interaction, especially the older mall walkers.

“I love that mall walking programs can create social camaraderie,” says Brown, “keeping them connected when they might be dealing with loneliness and depression. “

The CDC’s walking guide to shopping malls cited Lincoln Mall in Matteson, south Chicago, as an example of an effective program. The facility offered a “Milers Club” program linked to a hospital and health system. There were speakers and blood pressure checks. “The participants in the mall walkers,” the CDC guide said, “represent the racial and ethnic demographics of the surrounding community.”

Today there is no walking program in the Lincoln Mall. Today there is no Lincoln Mall. It closed a few months before the CDC guide was released.

Love for our shopping malls

What began in 1956 with the Southdale Center in Minnesota, the nation’s first indoor mall, has grown into a cultural phenomenon.

Our mall was our community center, the 20th century Roman Forum in the suburbs. You walked, you talked and you bought. Then came the Internet; Amazon, EBay and, reducing the tendency for people to leave their homes to shop.

Stores in the mall continue to close, with vacancy rates hitting a seven-year high of 9.1 percent in the third quarter of 2018, the the Wall Street newspaper reported in October. In 2017, Swiss credit predicts that 20 to 25 percent of some 1,200 U.S. malls would close within five years.

“This concerns me,” says Brown. “There are two problems. First, what happens to walking programs in shopping malls? And second, what happens to the malls themselves? “

Shopping centers have come up with a variety of ways to reinvent themselves. Some are looking for different types of tenants. Medical centers. Fitness centers. Dojos (martial arts spaces). Classroom. For Brown, these ideas have beaten abandoned malls that are turning into what he calls “community horrors.”

Faithful walkers through the years

At 6 a.m. the doors to Yorktown Center will open. They’d be better off, Erin Falbo jokes, or someone will hear about it from strollers in the mall.

Falbo is responsible for the marketing and business development of the Lombard Mall, a western suburb of Chicago. Yorktown celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. “And there has been at least one unofficial program of mall walkers probably every fifty years,” Falbo says.

Falbo worked with Humana, the colossal in healthcare, to take mall walking to the next level. It was a chance, she says, to give back to a community where so many neighbors also took root in the mid-20th century and to reward those who faithfully walk the malls. About two years ago, the Heart & Sole Walking Club was born.

There are about 700 members, according to Yorktown Marketing Coordinator Emily Barack. Each received a drawstring bag, a water bottle and a pedometer (now a cooling towel). There are also deals with the stores in the mall, which is good for walkers – and, yes, for business.

“I have so many friends here”

Every Thursday there is a free program for Heart & Sole members and anyone else who shows up. Recently, the walking group is scheduled for 8:15 to 9:15, and there are dozens of people in attendance, not all of the group, walking the two half-mile levels.


Chuck Enge, a retired Downers Grove tennis and basketball coach, affectionately known as “Coach Enge,” walks here six days a week. He appreciates what the mall has done to stay as vibrant as it is at 82. He likes that his fellow mall walkers stay active and don’t feel sorry for himself for helping recover from a stroke about four years ago.

“It’s a great place to walk without having to worry about the weather,” he says. “I have so many friends here.”

Lombard neighbors and retirees Kathy Smith and Mike Goddard were friends before they became shopping malls. Both say they feel better after walking.

Smith walks in the mall five days a week. Goddard jokes that she comes “every day I have nothing else to do” admitting that she hates waking up early and is happier now that they have pushed back their departure time. 30 minutes.

Goddard says that when you’re retired and single you have a lot of time alone, and going to the grocery store isn’t enough. Smith says she loves having the mall to exercise and worries about the cost of a gym.

“If they took it away from us,” Smith said, “I don’t know what I would do. “

Richard Beemer from Lombard, also retired, says he is happy to walk outside in good weather, but likes to come here as an alternative. The only cost is to buy lunch.

At 10 am, Kristin Conrad from Humana is leading a “Foods to Boost Your Brain” presentation, defending the Mediterranean diet. At 30, she appears to be less than half the age of the 20 or so participants. But she connects with them, talking To them, no up to them. Conrad loves how engaged they are, the questions they ask.

“I’m always surprised how they break down so many stereotypes,” she said later, “as if the older population isn’t tech-savvy. They are. “

Stephanie Welch, Illinois director for Humana, says she sees the same people every week and they become like family. She tells the story of a woman who became isolated after her husband died, but her daughter began to bring her to Yorktown. At first, the woman did not engage with anyone. “Now,” Welch says, “she’s the life of the center.”

A changed mall scene

I have a confession. I am also a mall walker.

I am not ready to go pro. Shopping malls are an occasional choice for my walking solution. I live in the Chicago area and there are a number of indoor and outdoor malls. I tried walking around Northbrook Court recently, before the stores opened, to see how the regulars do it.

Northbrook Court doesn’t list any clubs or programs, but dozens of people on that day walk in circles as escalators and many lights are turned off.

Take Mabel Janke. She is 85 and says she was on the Northbrook Safety Commission when the mall was built. She says the place needs updating, but still enjoys walking here for about an hour and three miles at a time, sometimes with a friend.

Ken Levin and Marshall Weinstein walk to Northbrook Court or the very large Woodfield shopping center in Schaumburg, which has ended its Woodfield Walkers club, but now has a scheduled event with Amita Heath on the fourth Friday of each month.

Mast awake, Amita vice president and director of communications, says the club change in schedule came after talking to the mall walkers. They said they would even walk without club.

Wakely has seen walkers and program members shrink over time; some left and others died.

The mall scene has changed and David Brown is considering where yesterday’s mall walkers might go.

Could schools open their halls and indoor facilities before and after class or on weekends? Could faith-based institutions with large facilities accommodate walkers? Could indoor rinks or roller rinks allow walkers to turn outside of the ovals instead? Could large hardware stores / garden centers redesign their aisles to provide clear pedestrian paths?

There are options, from community centers and senior centers to fitness clubs. The Lincoln Mall Milers Walking Club has found a home with a community center.

“There is no one hundred percent exact solution,” Brown admits.

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