Mall Walkers

I guess I’ve never gone to the mall before the stores opened to witness – what seemed to me a strange phenomenon. Mall walkers. These mall walkers are made up of mostly the elderly. I had the great pleasure of being at the mall a couple of days last week before the crack of dawn and was surprised when I saw so many people walking around the mall even though all the stores were closed. I quickly realized they were not just walking, but exercising. This was their form of exercising. I mentioned this to someone and they replied that they always came to walk. They would also congregate at the Starbucks to have coffee and socialize. I didn’t realize either that the Starbucks at the mall would be open so early.

This got me thinking. It was great that they were exercising, but inside a mall? Really? What happened to walking outdoors? And then it made me think about how I was judging these people for walking in a mall when I myself have gone to gyms to work out. Is that not almost the same thing? You would actually save money by exercising at the mall instead of a gym. Of course that is if you just want to walk. And in this case we are talking about the elderly who probably cannot do more than that – walk.

What are the advantages of walking in a mall? Well, I think most importantly it’s that you are out of the weather. You do not have to worry whether it is cold, hot, raining, snowing. You also do not have to worry about traffic. No busy intersections to cross, trash on narrow obstructed sidewalks, and rude drivers that stare at you or honk their horn. Even more importantly is safety. You feel safe inside the walls of a mall with security and cameras everywhere. No crazy person jumping out of the bushes here. And we can’t forget our biological necessities: restrooms and water fountains are easily accessible. On top of all these advantages malls have created special programs for mall walkers that offer discounts and health checks.

That all sounds great, but now what are the disadvantages of walking in a mall? One disadvantage is that the scenery doesn’t change. It’s the same thing every time. That could get boring quickly, which is a reason many mall walkers go to different malls. To err switch it up. But, what happened to walking outdoors? With all these advantages to walking in a mall why would anyone want to exercise outdoors? A 2007 study by Mind, a leading British mental health charity, conducted a study that compared the benefits of walking a trail through the woods versus a mall with a focus on people affected by depression. 71% of the participants reported decreased levels of depression after hiking, whereas 22% reported an increase in depression after walking through the mall. And 88% reported improved mood after hiking versus 44.5% who reported feeling in a worse mood after walking in a mall.

I think these findings trump any discount these programs could offer. Free health check? Maybe if they walked outdoors they wouldn’t need to get a health check as often.

Sources: ExaminerGrand Times

Image Source: Telegraph



  1. Why the “mall walkers” are older, I think, is for two reasons. One, the baby boomers are the ones that have seen the evolution of the indoor shopping mall concept from beginning to end. They were the ones growing up and moving out to the suburbs after WWII, mall visits included. They grew up taking pictures with Santa in front of the carousel in the Galleria and are taking their children and grandchildren there this season. The indoor shopping mall has been a staple in their shopping activities for more than 50 years. Secondly, I believe the “out of the weather” aspect is really attractive for the oldies. They may not necessarily be walking for exercise exclusively, but for social interaction with their quilting circles or progressive dinner clubs. Although, I don’t believe you’re receiving an adequate work out if you are able to actively hold conversations at the same time.

  2. Isn’t the “out of weather” aspect attractive to everyone? I mean isn’t that one reason gyms were probably invented and why most people go to them? how can we compete with that when designing outdoor places for exercising and in general?

    1. I wonder what the difference of walkers in the harsh seasonal weathers are compared to more mild seasons. I worked at a mall year round for four years and the numbers seemed to be consistent, although that’s completely observational and I didn’t actually count people. But, if it is consistent that would mean malls provide something other than shelter from weather.

      I think the reasons why people choose to excercise in gyms and malls is psychological and based on perception. Maybe elderly people (on a general level) don’t prefer gyms because they’re limited in the scope of excericise. They prefer not to pay to walk on stationary machines. So then, why choose a mall over a park? In my opinion, I think they perceive malls to be safe.

      And, for gyms vs the outdoors, I think people believe exercise is a chore separated to itself. If time isn’t designated to a set of standard machines it isn’t considered exercise. When, in actuality, people can be fit and healthy with active chores around the house or recreational activities like walking the dog, going for a bike ride, or even playing with the kids outside. People’s lives are becoming a stark contrast when dividing time for activities; tv/computer (stationary) vs the gym (active… or lack of).

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