Since the first shopping mall opened in Edina, Minnesota, in 1956, people have flocked to malls to do their shopping. But almost as soon as malls were opened, shoppers realized malls were great for something else, too—walking.
Mall walking began in the 1960s and surged in popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and many malls now have formal programs to encourage people to get fit during the mall’s off hours. In fact, mall walking has remained popular even as indoor shopping malls have seen a decline in recent years. And despite retailers pulling out of many malls, walkers are still making use of these large indoor spaces.
My own grandmother used to meet friends and walk around the mall after she retired. The walking kept her active, and also gave her a reason to get out of the house and an opportunity to chat with her friends. Mall walking didn’t just keep her physical body fit, it positively affected her mental health, as well.
Physical health benefits of mall walking
Walking is a great exercise for older adults, especially those who struggle with limited mobility. Walking doesn’t require any equipment other than a good pair of shoes, and people can walk as quickly or as slowly as their bodies allow.
The Mayo Clinic reports the health benefits of walking include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Preventing heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer
- Improving cardiovascular fitness
- Strengthening bones and muscles
- Improving muscle endurance
- Increasing energy levels
- Improving mood, cognition, memory and sleep
- Improving balance and coordination
- Strengthening the immune system
- Reducing stress and tension
While falls remain the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in those 65 and older, walking every day can lessen the risk of falls while also improving seniors’ overall health.
Mental health benefits of mall walking
Feelings of isolation and loneliness can be key contributors to poor physical health for seniors. The National Institute on Aging reports that feeling lonely contributes to a decline in seniors’ physical health, and several studies show social isolation is a major factor in premature death.
Joining a group or simply meeting friends for a stroll around the mall helps keep seniors from developing those feelings of isolation and loneliness. In fact, the activity in turn actually encourages more walking, with one study reporting that seniors were more likely to keep walking regularly because of the social interaction rather than the health benefits.
Safety benefits of mall walking
While the same physical and mental health benefits apply to walking outdoors, malls provide a safe place for seniors to walk year-round. Outdoor sidewalks can be uneven or hard on the joints, but the mall floor provides a smooth, even surface on which to walk, which benefits seniors who may not be as stable on their feet as they once were. The smooth surface also allows seniors who need the assistance of a cane or a walker to participate without worrying about curbs and changing street surfaces.
Walking inside the mall also provides a refuge from the weather. Depending on where you live, stormy, cold or extremely hot weather can make it difficult for older adults to exercise outside. Mall walking allows seniors to continue to get regular exercise no matter the conditions outdoors.
Mall walking options
Many malls allow mall walkers to enter the mall before stores open, providing them with an uncrowded space in which to walk. This benefits seniors by reducing the risk of falling while trying to navigate through a crowded mall.
Some malls go a step further and have a full-fledged mall-walking program that includes walking logs and incentives. Walking programs may include guest speakers, access to blood pressure checks and other physical well-being checks, and group stretching before walking, along with maps and route plans that include distance information. A few programs may even provide transportation to and from the mall.
Even if a mall doesn’t have a formal mall walking program with special walking hours, the mall is still a great place to meet some friends for a walk. Seniors don’t need a formal program to take advantage of the benefits of mall walking.
Check with your doctor and then get walking!
While walking is an easy way to get started on an exercise program and is a safe exercise for most people, it’s important to check with your loved one’s doctor before starting anything new, especially if you have concerns about their fitness for cardiovascular activity or their stability.
Your loved one’s doctor can provide advice that pertains to their unique situation so they can safely enjoy the many benefits of mall walking. Once you get the all-clear, encourage your loved one to lace up their sneakers and get started!