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New grant aims to make mall-walking programs more accessible

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Date: October 16, 2013
Media Contact: Ashley Wiggin, aaw4@uw.edu, 206-221-2456

Long before the happy shoppers fill the hallways of your local mall, on the hunt for a great deal, there is a group of people looking for a find of a different variety. Their tennis shoes are tied tightly as they gather together and catch up over coffee. That’s right—these people are mall walkers. With ample parking, lots of bathrooms, plenty of flat surfaces and great lighting, local malls may be the perfect place to get some exercise and make friends, too. And, thanks to new funding from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the University of Washington School of Nursing is about to make mall-walking even easier and more accessible.  

“I’ve been a mall walker for over three years, and to me, it is a God send,” said Mr. George Wong, an avid mall walker and supporter of mall-walking programs. “I love the comradeship that comes from belonging to a group, and it is a great way to make friends.”

Basia BelzaBasia BelzaSchool of Nursing Professor Basia Belza and a team of partners in five states across the US are leading the charge to develop an evidence-informed mall-walking resource guide, filled with tips, ideas and information to develop more mall walking programs throughout the country.

“This guide will be a culturally-sensitive resource that will provide information to mall-walkers in several different areas, including Alaska, West Virginia, Illinois and Missouri,” said Belza. “We hope to develop a resource that will be used in a variety of cities to make mall-walking programs easier to find and use.”

Belza notes that malls make an excellent place for people to get their daily exercise, especially mid-life and older adults. They are equipped with bathrooms and access to water, lighting and benches for resting. They also have on-site security and many are covered making it comfortable to walk in inclement weather. Many malls are also on public transit lines and, therefore, provide people the option of not driving their car to the mall. Yet, there is plenty of parking for those who do choose to drive, making malls a great place to get active for anyone.

“Many times, people will stay in their houses because they don’t have anyone to exercise with,” said Belza. “Mall-walking takes away some of those excuses and concerns—there is a built in safety system and plenty of resources available. Walking with a group is a great way to socialize while getting your exercise in.”

Map with states highlightedMap with states highlightedThe CDC funding will enable Belza and a team of individuals across several states to assess the status of current mall walking programs while making strides towards improving available resources. The project will cover a wide range of socio-economic, regional, and racial diversity to understand how different groups might access mall resources. The project will also have an advisory group that is active in the community and will help disseminate the information and study findings to interested groups, as well as the guide itself once completed.

“Malls exist in all kinds of neighborhoods, across socio-economic status, and are a wonderful place for people to gather,” said Belza.

Belza notes that the health benefits of walking in general are numerous and can make a difference in the quality of life of everyone, not just older adults. For older adults, however, mall-walking can also provide social stimulation, as often groups will meet to walk together and will share a cup of coffee after their walk.

“Being physically active helps older adults remain independent,” said Belza. “It increases overall muscle strength and health and improves balance which can reduce ones’ risk for falls. Walking is a wonderful activity and exercise for anyone.”

For Mr. Wong, who walks with a sound-step program called “So Walk-on,” mall-walking has helped him to lose weight and lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol in the three years he has been a mall-walker.

“Mall walking is one of the better parts of my life,” he said.

David Brown, a Senior Behavioral Scientist with CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch points out that low cost, effective walking programs that have the potential to be packaged and disseminated on a large scale among communities throughout the U.S. are lacking. Shopping malls currently represent a setting that may fill this void. 

Mall Walking Bellevue SquareMall Walking Bellevue Square“Dr. Belza and her colleagues are embarking on an exciting project to  actually evaluate whether mall walking programs are effective and can lead to increases in walking on a much larger scale than currently exists across the U.S,” said Brown. “Almost every community in the U.S. has the potential to have one or more mall walking programs and that can set a social norm for the nation to be more active.”  

Brown also notes that there is potential for this project to have a major impact on community activity in general as it also explores program effectiveness outside of shopping malls.

”Dr. Belza and her team will determine if mall walking programs can be used in non-mall settings, and this is important since some rural communities or urban neighborhoods lack a shopping mall.”

Belza, who recently completed work on a project that focused on neighborhood walkability, is incredibly passionate about getting people moving and making more accessible options for mid-life and older adults. Belza’s research career has focused on providing enhanced opportunities for older adults to get and stay active, and she believes malls provide an excellent space for just that type of activity. Project funding is through the UW Health Promotion Research Center (HPRC), which is a CDC Prevention Research Center (PRC) and is in the UW School of Public Health.  The grant period began on Sept. 30 and will go for one year. Belza is the Aljoya Endowed Professor in Aging in the School of Nursing. She also is an adjunct professor in the School of Public Health.

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

Top: School of Nursing Professor Basia Belza

Middle: The grant will provide funding for research in five states: Alaska, Illinois, Missouri, Washington and West Virginia.

Bottom: Bellevue Square's Mall-Walking program, Walk for Life, offers participants blood pressure checks as part of the mall-walking program, which takes place three days a week starting at 8am. The program is sponsored by Overlake Medical Center and the City of Bellevue.

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The University of Washington School of Nursing is consistently a top-rated nursing school, according to U.S. News & World Report. Ranked No. 3 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the UW School of Nursing is a national and international leader in improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. The school addresses society’s most pressing challenges in health care through innovative teaching, award winning research and community service. For more information, visit www.nursing.uw.edu.