Mall Walking Programs Can Help Promote Physical Activity and Health

Written by David Brown, Senior Behavioral Scientist, Physical Activity and Health Branch, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Originally posted August 20, 2015 on the CDC Preventing Chronic Disease Dialogue blog

Public health practitioners, ideally with support from one or more community partners, can help promote physical activity through mall walking programs. These programs can provide safe, convenient, and comfortable places for residents to be physically active and make social connections. Using existing malls to provide spaces where people can walk regularly has the potential to address barriers some people face in getting regular physical activity.

Mall walking can address barriers such as weather (malls can be used for walking regardless of seasonal changes); fear of neighborhood crime (mall security staff are often present); fear of injury (level surfaces and eliminating trip hazards reduce risk of injuries); lack of social support (there is support from other walkers and there may be a mall walking leader); and expense (most mall walking programs are free; no equipment needed-just a good pair of walking shoes). Malls also offer benches and places to rest, free accessible water, and restrooms.

The physical and mental health benefits of physical activity include a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancers, and depressed mood. These benefits can be gained by adults who obtain recommended amounts of physical activity: at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Only one-half of US adults obtain recommended amounts of aerobic activity. A brisk walk is a great way to accumulate minutes toward meeting recommended physical activity goals. Walking can be done by the vast majority of Americans and walking can be tailored to include those with mobility limitations.

The University of Washington, Health Promotion Research Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity recently released Mall Walking: A Program Resource Guide to encourage the growth of mall walking programs throughout the country. The guide is based on a literature review, environmental audits, and interviews with walkers, program leaders, and mall managers.