Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 20, 2013

Mall walking keeps these seniors fit


CNHI

— Eunice McKen may hold the speed record for window shopping.



She visits the Mounds shopping mall at least six times a week, but rarely buys anything. It’s tough, when every storefront is a blur.



McKen is a mall-walker — a breed of fitness junkie who prefers food courts to basketball courts.



“I usually try to walk for about an hour,” said McKen, 81, power-walking past Carson’s on her third lap around Mounds. “I believe in staying active, thinking happy thoughts.”



The regular walking crowd at Mounds usually numbers 30 seniors. Like McKen’s husband Herb, some readily admit they’re past their physical prime.



“At my age, I’m not free of medical problems,” said Herb, 85. “But exercise helps. When I stop walking, they’ll bury me.”

Until two years ago, Eunice ran three miles a day, and Herb power-walked eight miles on his 80th birthday (he swears). Over the years, they’ve slowed down a bit, but not much. For proof, try lapping Eunice when she speeds around the mall — odds are, you’ll lose.



The McKens are outliers. According to a recent physical activity and health report from the U.S. Surgeon General, more than half of Americans don’t get regular exercise.



For some, life gets in the way. For others, it’s rain, snow, sleet and other adverse weather conditions, which is one reason mall-walking has become popular for older folk.



“We used to only walk outside,” Eunice said. “Here, the temperature’s warm year-round, and there’s no ice, no rain.”



Walking is recommended by medical experts as an easy, low-impact form of exercise with numerous health benefits, including improved circulation and burning fat without losing muscle.



“I know walking helps me keep trim,” said Herb, adding wife Eunice has a knack for bread-making.



The mall sees a few benefits too. Walkers, after all, are potential shoppers who might spend money on clothes, kitchen appliances, coffee and whatever the stores happen to be selling.



“It’s really a win-win,” said Braun Roosa, the mall general manager. “They get to walk, and we get traffic.”



Mounds offers a “Mall Cruisers” club for people 55 and older, which meets Thursday mornings. There are also free blood pressure checks, chair exercise classes and health clinics.



It is no surprise that mall walkers are early birds, arriving in the morning before store traffic picks up.



“Sometimes, there’ll be a blizzard outside and they’ll be waiting to get in,” Roosa said. “They really want to walk.”

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Baylee Pulliam is a writer for the Anderson, Ind., Herald Bulletin.