Walking is an excellent form of physical activity and has been shown to have numerous health benefits. These include: Lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes; having a positive impact on depression, weight, and fall risk. In addition, walking (and subsequent increased physical activity) has been shown to delay and reduce symptoms related to cognitive decline and dementia.
A walking program allows a person who is inactive or unfit to increase their physical activity safely. Unfortunately, many negative environmental factors may exist that discourage active neighborhood walking. These may include: street layout, sidewalk conditions, proximity of desirable destinations, perceived safety from traffic and crime. Walking in a mall can often eliminate these negative factors and consistently offers a sheltered/conditioned environment. Malls offer level walking surfaces, benches/chairs for resting, accessible restrooms, security and an overall stimulating environment. Researchers have found that older adults with mild cognitive disabilities prefer walking in indoor shopping malls and less in parks. “This finding may be because malls’ enclosed environments, safe walking surfaces, places to rest, convenient rest rooms, and absence of traffic offer fewer distractions to those who are cognitively challenged.” (1)
Incorporating evidence-based physical activity programs into mall walking programs
“Mall walking will provide participants with the opportunity to obtain weekly aerobic physical activity. However, other physical activity programs could be integrated with the mall walking program. For example, the National Institute of Aging, Go4Life campaign, can help midline and older adults improve their strength, balance, and flexibility, as well as increasing their aerobic activity. Other group-based programs, for example, Walk with Ease and EnchanceFitness may have the potential to be integrated into mall walking programs.”
Many malls open their doors in advance of stores opening to allow for community walking. Some malls may offer a “Mall Walking Program” which allows a person to participate in a structured walking program and includes pre-measured distances, walking logs and additional support such as blood pressure check stations.
Not all communities have a mall but other venues that are conducive to a walking program may exist. These can include a single multipurpose large store, community cultural or senior center or potentially a school facility. A zoo and/or botanical garden can also offer alternatives to an indoor mall walking program.
(1) Prohaska, T. R., et al. Walking and the preservation of cognitive function in older populations. 2009. The Gerontologist, 49(S1), S86-S93.