Start at the entrance to the mall office. Pace counterclockwise, with faster walkers drifting to the middle and the slower ones staying on the outskirts of the path. And don't disrupt the flow.
As in most group activities, there are understood rules and etiquette involved with what has become a great form of exercise and even a hobby for many. Mall walking has grown tremendously over the past couple of decades, with the public realizing the great atmosphere of walking on an indoor course with the added benefits of window-browsing and making new friends.
The Heart Walkers program was started at Hickory Point Mall in 2000 as a partnership between the mall and Decatur Memorial Hospital, said Candy Carroll, marketing coordinator of Hickory Point Mall.
Anyone Can Do It
The program, open to anyone at no cost, allows participants to log in their miles, either by hand or at the DMH kiosk, as they walk through the mall's course for better health and to obtain prizes at various milestones.
"It's grown quite a bit; we see a lot of people who are becoming more heart healthy, and we've seen an increase in the middle-age group and also have a lot of younger ones," Carroll said. "We also see a lot of people recovering from knee surgery or hip surgery. It's very popular because it can be done at any time."
The mall's doors open at 6 a.m. and close at 10 p.m., and Carroll said the periods of time in the early morning and in the early evening attract the most walkers. The mall is a good atmosphere to exercise because it provides shelter from the weather and has a surface conducive to walking.
"It has a very even surface. You don't have to worry about potholes or twigs," Carroll said. "You can do it in any type of weather; the temperature is cool in the summer, and in the winter, when you have to stop exercising outside, you can come in here because it's warmer."
Donna Whitacer and Shirley Munjoy said they have been coming to the mall together for the past couple of years. The two women have met a lot of people while walking, Munjoy said.
"It's a good atmosphere," Whitacer said. "(Walking) makes you feel good; we can walk in the winter and the summer and be out of the weather."
Whitacer and Munjoy said they usually take about 45 minutes to complete three laps around the mall. One lap, including the nooks, is equal to about two-thirds of a mile, or 1 kilometer. Just walking lengthwise, from J.C. Penney to Bergner's is closer to a half mile, Carroll said.
Walking is an excellent form of exercise, and even those with health problems such as arthritis can walk because it's easy on the joints, said Dr. Tim Miller, medical director of the DMH Wellness Center. Walking can help lower blood pressure and blood sugar, improve cholesterol levels and help maintain or lose weight, he said.
A Great Social Activity
"There is a lot in the way of medications to treat diseases, but if you think about regular exercise and the impact it has on those illnesses, you can do as much or even more with an exercise program," Miller said. "The group environment (through walking at the mall) adds to it; you're able to develop relationships with others out there walking and depend upon that support."
Charles Bell is a 14-year veteran of the mall walking scene and typically comes out to the mall about six days a week.
"I've met a lot of people I never thought I would meet before; they're all very nice, really," he said. "We all have about the same thing in common, for one reason or another. Most of us (walk) for health reasons."
Many, if not most, of the walkers have been coming for years, Carroll said, and several of the food shops open early to serve coffee to the walkers.
Jerry Schmidt and Doris Turner, who have been mall walking since 1993, said they usually pace around a couple of times with a group of friends before sitting down to a cup of coffee to visit.
"We have a bunch that walks around together, and we like to come in the wintertime," Schmidt said. "It gets me up and gets me going."
Courtney Klemm can be reached at email@example.com or 421-6968.
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