There is a tendency to disparage people who choose to get their exercise by walking inside a mall. It’s not an organized discrimination, just a general snideness of tone when some runners or outdoor walkers say “Mall Walkers,” like they don’t really count on the scale of exercise fanatics. I know, because I used to be one of those people.
Not that I was ever an exercise fanatic. Just that I was trying to walk everyday at the City Park with my brother, Jim, and some of our friends. We all tended to share that attitude. However, I can’t handle outdoor exercise in all weathers. If it’s below 45 degrees or above 75, I’m not interested enough to power through. Rain or snow stop me cold. I’d never make it as a postal worker. So, I stopped exercising for a long time. Unfortunately, the less you walk, the less able to walk you become.
After a couple of years, I found I couldn’t even make it through the grocery store without holding onto a cart, like a giant walker. So, I started doing Yoga and Pilates. I bought DVDs and downloaded digital workouts. I read exercise books and articles in magazines. I finally even bought an exercise bike (which sits silent and still most of the time). Things improved, but it just wasn’t enough.
Jim and I like getting into the outdoors to take photos. We love to travel, we visit National Parks, and various cities around the country. We take the toddlers to zoos and parks. All of that requires walking. Yoga and Pilates help to strengthen you, if done regularly, but they aren’t the same. To be able to walk longer and farther, you have to practice.
So, back at the beginning of Lent, I decided it was a good time to start a new exercise program. It’s too easy to procrastinate about Yoga routines or riding the stationary bike at home. I needed something that fit my morning routine, but was adjustable and public. The walking trails don’t usually lend themselves to easy cutoffs. They mostly have a beginning and an end. Either they make a loop or you go out and back. Either way, you are locked into a distance and a time frame. If something suddenly comes up or you just don’t have the energy to keep going around, there’s not a lot you can do.
Walking along city streets just didn’t appeal to me for many reasons. Even in our small town, I didn’t feel safe going out alone in the dark, traffic was a problem at times, and there were still the same weather issues. I already knew I’d cancel if it was raining or give up for the season when it started to get hot.
Walking in a mall*** has become a national phenomenon. There’s even a CDC guide for it. So I decided to give it a try. I knew most people wouldn’t consider it REAL exercise, but it seemed like my best chance of sticking to a routine and any exercise is better than none. At the park, I reside at the bottom of the social hierarchy. I can’t (yet) do five miles. I can’t run, jog, or sprint. Some days, I can’t even walk fast. I average about 15 minutes a mile.
At the mall, however, I am at the top of the food chain. There are a few people who pass me along the way but, unlike at the park, they don’t make it around twice to my once. There are a few others who keep pace with me. Most wander along at a stroll. Malls are where people who have physical challenges go to exercise. For many of them, making it all the way around at any speed is a challenge. The fact that those who are obviously dealing with handicaps can force themselves to make the circuit is a challenge to me to keep at it even when I’m feeling worn out or just not in the mood.
It’s not as pretty as park scenery, the air isn’t as fresh, the light isn’t as bright, but the floor is level and without obstructions, the temperature is stable all year long, and it doesn’t rain or snow. Like most things in life, both the park and the mall have advantages and disadvantages. For me, at this time, the mall advantages outweigh the disadvantages. For many of the people there, this will always be true.
It’s easy for most of the people who frequent the park to exercise. They are usually healthy and in reasonably good shape. They are able to set aside a convenient time slot everyday and stick to it. Mall walkers are mostly there because they aren’t physically able to handle the park loops or their time is limited or subject to sudden changes and some are young mothers with infants in strollers.
I have come to realize that the fact that they have the determination to find a place where they can exercise is spite of this deserves respect, not disdain. Those who have physical problems are pushing themselves to the limit of their abilities as much as the runners. They are displaying just as much determination and willpower in their weakness as anyone who runs from strength. Those with time restraints or small children are refusing to let that keep them from working out. I am proud to number myself among them.
***Even though the stores don’t open until nine or ten, our mall opens its doors at 7am. People are allowed to come in and walk the circuit unimpeded by anything more than the cleaning crew. If you need to work out indoors for free, check with your local malls. It’s quite likely some of them have the same policy.