Walk the Walk Established ‘Mall Walkers’ Program Is Much More Than A Lap Past The Stores

Clad in bright sweatshirts and comfortable walking shoes, four of the Eastfield Mall’s veteran mall walkers list the many benefits of participating in the well-known fitness activity.

Good exercise, improved health, and free gifts top the list.

But it has taken more than the occasional chotchke to keep the nationally known phenomenon in place for decades – welcoming thousands of participants during that time.

Many people hear of mall walkers, but never see them – most arrive at the mall before the stores open to get their laps in before the hallways get crowded. Still, there are mall-walking clubs scattered across the country much like the Eastfield Mall Walkers Club, which is free to join and entitles members to a number of perks in addition to early-morning walking privileges.

Physicians routinely recommend mall walking as an easy, inexpensive way to improve health through regular exercise, especially to elders, and as an alternative to pricey gym memberships or unsafe walking conditions outside.

As part of that focus on improving health, many malls have taken steps to become more involved in the promotion of mall-walking benefits. Some measure out how many laps it takes to complete anywhere between one and five miles, allowing walkers to easily gauge how much exercise they’re getting. One lap around the Eastfield Mall, for instance, is five-eighths of a mile – eight laps is roughly five miles, so walkers can start slowly and work up to the level of exercise with which they’re comfortable.

The Eastfield Mall also provides an informational packet when new members register, which includes tips to maximize a workout – start slowly, pace yourself, maintain good posture, talk while walking (if you’re out of breath, you’re going too fast), cool down at the end our your workout, and have fun.

Ease on Down

As any mall walker will tell you, membership in a mall-walkers club entitles one to much more than access to a safe, warm place to exercise, at no cost.
Rather, many programs have evolved to include weekly health-related presentations, mini health fairs, annual get-togethers, discounts at mall stores, free gifts, breakfasts, and more.

But one of the most valuable aspects of the program, according to Janice Jones of Springfield, a four-year veteran walker at the Eastfield Mall, is the camaraderie.
“We all come to know each other,” she said. “We may not know your name at first, but we know the face, because we pass by walking, wave, and say ‘hello.’ It’s a very friendly atmosphere.”

Jones said she began walking as part of the Mall Walkers Club shortly after retiring.

“I didn’t know what was on television during the day, so I took some time to sit and relax, and bought all of my favorite snacks,” she explained. “Sure enough, my cholesterol shot up.”

Jones’ physician recommended walking, and soon thereafter she began regularly walking at the mall, her cholesterol lowered. The new friendships and the regular programs to look forward to help keep her going, she said.

Claire Lebel of Ludlow said her doctor also recommended walking, and advised mall walking over outdoor exercise, because her neighborhood doesn’t include safe sidewalks.

Lebel said she was skeptical of mall walking at first.

“He told me I should try mall walking, and I didn’t want to go alone,” she said, “but there were some other ladies in Ludlow that were in a club of their own and they asked me if I wanted to join. I made my mind up that I was going to do this and stick to it, so I came to the mall early one morning, and never stopped.”

Lebel added that walking does more than improve her health – it takes her mind off of her problems as well.

“You come in and sometimes you’re half asleep,” she joked, “but there’s always someone to say ‘good morning,’ and that’s a great feeling. It gets your day off to a good start and that’s important, because it stays with you all day long.”

Talking the Talk

Indeed, the regular mall walkers have plenty of people to greet as they filter in for their morning walks. The program’s coordinator, Carolyn Varnadore, marketing associate at the Eastfield Mall, said walkers can number close to 100 on any given day, within a span of just a few early morning hours.

“We’re very proud of our mall walkers,” said Varnadore. “They are a wonderful group of people and a great addition to the Eastfield Mall, and we are always trying to add to the program for them.”

And the walkers themselves often participate in talks regarding improvements at the mall, she said, adding that they serve as a sort of built-in market research group and sounding board.

Members of the Mall Walkers Club, for instance, routinely brainstorm new ideas for programs, featured speakers, or events planned around mall walking – most are health related and take place in the morning.

“There’s always someone who comes in to talk with us and the programs are great,” said Warren Hudson of Indian Orchard, one of the club’s most seasoned walkers – he and his wife Jackie have been walkers since the club’s inception 18 years ago at the Eastfield Mall, even walking the perimeter of the building before an expansion was completed. “We’ve heard talks on every subject you can imagine – from Alzheimer’s to nutrition, and Social Security to changes in health insurance. It’s very informative, and all geared toward health. We even get our blood pressure checked twice a month.”

But as constant visitors to the mall, they also weigh in on more general issues concerning mall management and security, including safety, services for customers, and accessibility for the handicapped, children, or the elderly.

Jackie Hudson was instrumental, for instance, in getting an indoor entrance installed within the mall leading to the 99 Restaurant.

“Before, you had to go outside, and it wasn’t as safe,” she said, noting that the improvement had an effect not only on safety at the mall, but also patronage at the restaurant, at least among her high-stepping associates. “We go there all the time now. It’s much easier.”

The Finish Line

The mission of the club is still the exercise component, however, and those walkers who spoke with The Healthcare News are all firm believers in mall walking as a fitness regimen that promotes overall wellness of the mind, body, and spirit.

In addition to Jones’ cholesterol numbers going down, Lebel’s health has also improved, and as she looks at a photo from a recent health fair, she smiles as she spots herself and her friends.

And Jackie and Warren Hudson have slightly different evidence of the health and longevity their mall walking has helped along.

“We’ll be married 58 years in June,” they say together with broad smiles, as Jackie jokingly waves a gold-ringed fist in the air, and Warren tightens the lace on his sneaker.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at stevenson@healthcarenews.com

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