“The highest percentage of mall walkers are retired,” said Sara Donovan, who wrote the book “Mall Walking Madness: Everything You Need to Know to Lose Weight and Have Fun at the Same Time.”
“And yet there is a big contingent of stroller moms and also, and this is something we didn’t expect, parents who have home-schooled their kids and mall walk as part of the kids’ physical education,” she said.
Walking is among the oldest fitness options. Thousands of years ago the Greek physician Hippocrates declared walking man’s best medicine. Today the AARP, a leading senior organisation, lists managing weight, controlling blood pressure, decreasing risk of heart attack and stroke, among its many benefits. Mall walking began when the first fully enclosed US mall, the Stockdale, opened in Minnesota in 1956 and local doctors counselled patients recovering from heart attacks to exercise there, away from the snow and ice of Minnesota’s harsh winters.
The 1980s saw a boom in the construction of malls and by 2001, some 2.5 million people were walking in 1,800 malls in the US, according to Donovan’s book. Mall walking has since spread to Europe and Asia.
The Mall of America, in Bloomington, Minnesota, has been operating its mall-walking program, called Mall Stars, since opening in 1992.
“It gets really cold here, but the mall is always 70 degrees,” said Erica Dao, spokeswoman for the massive mall, described as “the largest, fully enclosed retail and family entertainment complex in the US.”
The mall opens at 7 am, three hours before the stores, to accommodate walkers. The distance around one level of Mall of America is .57 of a mile.
Dao said over 200 people belong to Mall Stars. A $15 annual fee gets them monthly breakfasts, retail discounts, swipe cards to track their hours walked, and lectures on health and fitness.