Active Senior Living: How to Find a Mall Walking Program

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Forget the annual sales or that pair of shoes you noticed in the window. There are individuals making frequent trips to the mall for a purpose that does not involve lugging around recent purchases or dodging the weekend crowds.

These individuals are part of a mall walking program, a trend that is expanding as more people recognize its potential health and social benefits.

Spotlight on Ballston Commonwalk:

Twenty years ago, Virginia Hospital Center and Ballston Common Mall joined to co-sponsor a senior mall-walking program titled the Ballston ‘Commonwalk.’ The free program is open to all members of the community and is constantly growing.

Mary Belanich, who works at this program through VHC, said its members which range in age from 55 to 95, meet every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Although they are free to begin walking at any time, they typically start between 8 and 8:30 while Mary sets up a table where she serves as the point person. After taking their blood pressure and keeping track of the miles they walk, she records this information onto nametags they wear around their necks. At 9:15, the group proceeds to the central location where Mary leads them in a variety of cool-down stretches where she has also incorporated push-ups using the walls. Usually about fifteen minutes later, they head to the food courts where they enjoy breakfast. On a quarterly basis, Mary provides an educational program for members.

“People have joined the program to lose weight or because they may have lost touch with eating well,” she said, “This has helped them get back on track.”

And several people are getting on track as she has noticed a definite increase in the members of her program. Although she credits those members who spread the word to their friends, she attributes this growth to medical personnel.

“I have been seeing more and more referrals from doctors and rehabilitation specialists,” she said, “There is definitely a greater awareness.”

The group celebrates birthdays and holds a luncheon once a month at different restaurants for which they pay their own way. According to Mary, it gives the individuals an opportunity to share a meal, which can mean a great deal to the many members that are widowed.

The Ballston program’s 20th anniversary celebration at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex on June 14th exemplified the social impact such programs can have on participants’ lives. Two of the original members attended the event as well as those VHC employees that were appointed to the program who still keep in touch with its members. Another former walker who lives in Florida drove to Virginia two days before the party.

Mary also cited two members who were married and had been with the program for 10 years. As they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, they were accompanied by about 40 of their fellow walkers.

“To them, the group is an extension of their family,” said Mary.

Having worked at the Ballston ‘Commonwalk’ for two and a half years, she has seen how these programs are important to those individuals who have stuck with it for many years.

“New folks join every month, but for those that stick with it, it just becomes part of their routine,” she said, “They wouldn’t dream of it not being part of their Tuesday/Thursday mornings.”

Maintaining a structure enhances the experience for mall walkers. Having clear directions as to what the program involves and where to meet helps bring in more dedicated members and ensures a group dynamic.

“What people have told me in general is that they need a strong leader and there needs to be consistency and structure,” said Mary, “Otherwise, there is no incentive for members to go and keep the group together.”

As mall walking grows through word of mouth or medical referrals, it is allowing people to utilize the shopping arena for new reasons.

“The program makes members feel better, gives them a reason to get out of the house, and benefits their health and spirit because they really care about one another,” said Mary.

Whether you are seeking social connections or have recently gone through physical therapy, mall walking programs can enhance a positive lifestyle for anyone.

Visit our website www.guidetoretirementliving.com for details on all of the region’s mall walking programs and our mall walking blog.

District of Columbia
Mazza Gallerie 202-364-7602
Tues/Thurs near McDonalds

Maryland
Lakeforest Mall 301-840-5840
Everyday 8:00 am to 9:30 pm

Laurel Mall 301-953-3300
Tues. & Thurs 8:00 am

Montgomery Mall 301-469-6025
7:00 am Food Court Entrance

Westfield Montgomery 301-469-6000
7:00 am Food Court Entrance

White Flint Mall 301-468-5777
7:00 am Cheescake Factory Entrance

Virginia
Ballston Common Mall 703-558-6859
Tues. & Thurs 8:30 a.m.

Dulles Town Center 703-404-7120
Everyday from 7:am to 9:30 pm

Fair Oaks Mall 703-359-8300
Everyday from 6:30

Potomac Mills 703-496-9301
9 a.m. near Food Court

Springfield Mall 703-971-3000
Everyday from 7:am to 9:30 pm

Tyson Mall 703-893-9400
Everyday 6- 10 am Parking Lot C Entrance

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