Mall offers healthy outlet to walkers

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While visiting the Monroeville Mall in the 1970s, noted zombie moviemaker George Romero was struck by the blissful countenance of shoppers strolling along and inspired to make the classic horror movie, "Dawn of the Dead."

Today mall walkers still patrol the premises, but instead of flesh-eating zombies, they are senior citizens, stroller moms and others who are all on the track to good health. In the 1960’s, people began to use enclosed malls as a good place to walk. Today more than 2.5 million people regularly walk in the estimated 1,800 shopping malls across the country, and many malls team with local hospitals to offer walking/health programs.

In partnership with the Monroeville Mall, UPMC East and the American Heart Association are offering eastern suburban residents a walking program to help them get moving and support a more heart-healthy lifestyle. Ryan Witt, manager of community relations for UPMC, said the mall walking program is a community outreach that provides a non-invasive, low-cost way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. About 200 people participate. Walkers have access to a 1-mile and a 1.5-mile loop throughout the lower and upper levels of the mall. One mile equals about 2,000 steps.

 “People love it.'' Mr. Witt said. "The program gives us an opportunity to help motivate those who are already making a commitment to healthy habits. Walkers do the course at their own pace; there is no mandatory distance to complete; and attendance is optional.''

Walkers get a T-shirt, a pedometer and an activity tracker.

Once a month, an educational session is offered in the food court. Free blood pressure checks and heart health education are available. Sessions have featured experts on diabetes, healthy diet and medication. The goals of the program are to make walking part of a personal health and wellness journey.

Planners say benefits of regular walking include:

■ Improves cardiovascular health

■ Helps manage weight by increasing the rate of calorie burning (metabolism)

■ Increases energy level and Improves sleep

■ Prevents the loss of muscle mass during weight reduction

■ Improves bone density

■ Improves self-esteem and sense of control

To participate, register at one of the regular walking events, which are held from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. on the second Wednesday of each month. Walkers have access to the mall Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tim Means, freelance writer:

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