When Gloria Dock of Temple Hills, Md., started walking with the Iverson Mall Walkers in 1994, she was looking for some activity and a way to get in shape. Since then, she's gotten more than she bargained for.
Dock has lowered her bad cholesterol and triglycerides, shed a few pounds, lowered her blood pressure and, according to studies, decreased the likelihood of dementia as she ages. She also gets to spend time with several hundred of her closest friends three times a week.
See also: Iverson Mall Walkers slide show.
Dock's mall group in Hillcrest Heights, Md., is a walking advertisement for the first Every Body Walk! Week, Sept. 19-23, a national project by health provider Kaiser Permanente to get America up and moving. The event is part of Kaiser's Every Body Walk! online educational campaign, which promotes the benefits of walking.
Dock's group, which started in 1989 and now boasts more than 450 active members, gathers to walk in the mall three mornings a week. It also participates in several charitable walks in the Washington, D.C., area, including those for the CJ Foundation for SIDS and for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
Dancing is part of workout
Dock, a retired federal government worker, first took note of the walkers during her shopping excursions to the mall. When she retired years later and wanted a way to stay active and get in shape, she decided to join the group.
Not being a wallflower, Dock wanted to contribute her talent for organization to the walkers' efforts. "I love people," she says. "I've always been a take-charge kind of person, so I asked if there was anything I could do to help."
They took her up on her offer. She became assistant coordinator for the group in 1995 and coordinator in 2005.
"We have slow walkers and fast walkers," Dock says. "And after the first mile, we do the Electric Slide [line dance] … and that counts as a mile, too."
Being a part of the group gives several of the participants the motivation they need to lead more active lives.
"It is incentive to get out of the bed in the morning," says Sarah Kea, 74, of Fort Washington, Md., who has lost 20 pounds during the last three years by just walking.
"And she normally does not like to get up," jokes her husband, Fredric, 79. The two have been with the group for more than five years and say their doctors are happy that they are walking.
Fannie Hurley, 65, of Temple Hills, Md., joined the group two months ago after she retired from the U.S. Postal Service.
"This is fun and it keeps me active," Hurley says. "It helps me feel lively, and I encourage my friends to join me."
Neader Chandler, 69, also of Fort Washington, has not let her occasional health problems keep her from walking, which she says has helped ease arthritis in her knees. "It might hurt a little bit in the beginning, but after a while, it loosens up and I'm fine."
It's part of a prescription
The Iverson Mall group's enthusiasm about walking is exactly what Robert Sallis, M.D., orders. A family practitioner for Kaiser Permanente in Fontana, Calif., Sallis has been a strong advocate of walking for 20 years.
"Walking is as important as a prescription," he says. "The diseases of inactivity are running rampant. In fact, we are spending $1 out of $10 on them in Southern California."
He prescribes walking to his patients as a preventive measure and treatment for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. He says it also minimizes the risk of falling, which is important for his older patients.
Walking can be gradually introduced into a sedentary lifestyle, Sallis says, by strolling around the house and down to the end of a driveway or taking a short spin around the block. He recommends 30 minutes of walking five days a week, but beginners can start with 10-minute walks three times a day. Adults should walk 150 minutes a week, which is among the guidelines for physical activity set by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in 2008.
The Iverson Mall Walkers are certainly getting in their walking time, doing their part to spread the word about its health benefits and how anyone can do it at any age.
"I am encouraged when I see some of the older walkers — the ones who are 84 and 86," Chandler says. "They motivate and encourage me that I can be that active when I'm their age."
Also of interest: Best exercise tips for boomers. >>
Charlyne H. McWilliams is a writer in Silver Spring, Md.