The CDC is encouraging people, especially older people, to go to the mall—not to shop, but to walk. Here are some of the benefits of mall walking, plus how to navigate a few potential downsides.
Brisk walking has been linked to many health benefits, including a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Like other physical activities, it may enhance mood, help you sleep better, improve or at least help preserve cognitive functioning, increase energy, and have bone benefits. Walking requires no special equipment and can be done by people of all ages and fitness levels, including those with arthritis or other physical limitations, since it doesn’t put excessive stress on joints. You should aim, the CDC recommends, for at least 150 minutes of brisk walking (or other moderate-intensity exercise) a week.
Why walk at the mall?
Many neighborhoods don’t score high in “walkability.” On the other hand, as the CDC points out, indoor malls are pedestrian friendly in a number of ways:
- They’re climate-controlled. It doesn’t rain or snow in malls, and they are air-conditioned for those hot and humid days when you can’t exercise outside.
- They’re safe and well lit. There’s no need to worry about traffic or tripping over sidewalk cracks. Security guards and cameras, as well as the presence of other people, make them safer than many neighborhoods.
- They’re free and provide lots of amenities: benches for resting, water fountains for hydrating, restrooms for pit stops, and medical equipment (including defibrillators) for emergencies.
- Their level surfaces are good for novice walkers, while multi-level malls provide lots of stair-climbing opportunities.
- Some malls have organized walking programs led by fitness professionals; others have informal ones where walkers can get flyers or maps of walking routes or follow signs with mile markers. One loop of the mall may cover a distance of anywhere from a quarter mile to more than a mile.
Disadvantages of mall walking
- They can be crowded, meaning you might be doing a lot of dodging. Try to plan your walks for less-busy times, such as early morning (some malls open at 8 a.m. or earlier to accommodate walkers).
- They can tempt you to eat more, since food is readily available. Don’t reward yourself for exercising by snacking more.
- They don’t provide the same “natural” setting as a park or a beach, for example. Walking in nature (“green exercise”) has been shown to be especially restorative, helping reduce stress and lowering heart rate and blood pressure, more so than city walking. If possible, seek out malls that are airy and open, with ample natural light, potted plants, trees, and other landscaping that helps mimic the great outdoors.
For more information on mall walking programs and for other walking resources, see the CDC's Mall Walking: A Program Resource Guide.
See also: Better Walking Workouts.