- Associated Press - Sunday, March 8, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The morning is cold and dark outside.

But it’s warm and bright indoors as walkers do laps inside Charleston Town Center before the mall opens.

“I’ve been doing this seven or eight years,” said Linda Strait of Charleston. “The weather is always warm inside, the people are kind, and the walkers are serious. We keep track of each other. If someone is missing, we know. We become a family and ask about each other.”

Generally, the walkers keep up a good pace and simply wave to each other.

“This makes 31 years for our mall walkers program,” said Lisa McCracken, mall marketing director. “We are seeing more physicians write prescriptions for patients that say ‘be a mall walker.’”



Charleston Town Center’s mall walkers program is co-sponsored by Charleston Area Medical Center as a way to promote good health. From September through May, a meeting is held 8:30 to 9:15 a.m. the third Tuesday of each month in center court. The event generally includes a professional speaker on a health topic, refreshments, blood pressure readings, and, occasionally, entertainment.

While there are no meetings in June, July or August, some walkers still take advantage of the comfortable indoors to exercise. Others like to walk the outside perimeter of the mall.

McCracken points out that exercising before the mall opens means serious walkers have more freedom for a steady pace before shoppers arrive on the scene. Mall doors open 7 a.m. and stores at 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Some food court restaurants open at 8 a.m. Starbucks opens at 7 a.m. each day with the exception of Sunday when hours begin at 6:30 a.m.

More information may be found by stopping by the mall management office, located on level three, going to www.charlestontowncenter.com or calling 304-345-9526.

The management office has handouts listing how many laps equals how much distance. For example, on level one going one time completely around in and out of all store fronts, from starting point and back, is 3,118 feet. A straight path from one end to the other on level one is 2,242 feet. One mile equals 5,280 feet.

On a recent morning, several walkers said they choose a certain amount of time to walk but do not measure distance.

Strait, 72, walks for one hour three times a week.

“I have bad knees,” she said. “I change my pace. I average four and a half to five miles an hour. I have an iPod and listen to Christian music.”

Bob Tinney, 72, of Pinch, began mall walking five years ago and walks 45 minutes each time. He said it makes him feel better, plus he has made friends with fellow walkers and often meets “the guys” for a coffee when he completes his routine.

Being a mall walker is a good way to improve health and lift spirits.

Carl Beaver, 84, of Charleston became a mall walker in 2001 following heart surgery. He walks six days a week, covering about six miles each time. “It keeps me going.”

Bill Dean, 83, launched a more active lifestyle about a month ago following the death of his wife. He was once an avid swimmer. He now walks the mall five days a week, goes to a gym to swim and uses his outgoing personality to meet folks.

He served 23 years in the U.S. Navy, has held a variety of jobs from university professor to company manager, and enjoys meeting people. He likes joining fellow walkers for coffee around 10 a.m. to socialize.

“There is such a sense of camaraderie,” said walker Carolyn Burton, of Charleston. “Everyone speaks to everyone else.”

Emily Hopta, 37, is the mother of two children, ages 3 and 7, and a mall walker for 10 years. When each child was small she pushed a stroller during her walk and made the experience educational by pointing out colors and shapes. Currently an employee of the Department of Health and Human Resources, she leaves the children in bed under the care of her husband, arrives at the mall early, walks two miles and returns home in time to have breakfast with her family. She said she loves the warm, bright and safe environment for a morning exercise routine.

McCracken has noticed walkers of all ages from young mothers pushing babies in strollers and retirees to groups of workers exercising together before beginning a day at the office.

___

Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, https://www.charlestondailymail.com

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