On blustery days, mall-walking programs provide a place to work out.
If you want to get in shape but don't like the idea of using equipment or attending structured classes, there's a free, easy, time-tested alternative.
Take a walk. Whether you go around your neighborhood or around the local park, all you need to walk is a good pair of shoes and maybe a buddy or a tape player.
"If everyone would just walk a couple of miles a few times a week," trainer Janet Pitzulo says, "there'd be so much less heart disease in this country. Moderate exercise can still be very, very effective."
The setting: For those who want their walking time to be just right -- not too hot, too cold, too wet or too windy -- there are lots of climate-controlled shopping malls. The Southern Park Mall in Boardman has played host to walkers for at least seven years, according to marketing coordinator Susan Bellej. "We get two to three hundred walkers every morning, and more in the winter. During the summer, many of them choose to walk outside. I give them a lot of credit, because they're very dedicated."
Two laps around the mall, using every corridor, equals a mile, and distances are marked every one-third mile above the store entrances. The mall opens at 9 a.m. for walkers, though regular store hours begin at 10. Many of the walkers know one another, Bellej reports, and they walk in groups. "I see the same dedicated people in here every day when I come to work. They always wave and say hi."
Next Step Physical Therapy at the mall offers free blood pressure screenings for the walkers every Monday and was host of a Christmas party for them.
Walking has been called the best possible exercise, and it's also the easiest for beginners.
The American Council on Exercise says the popularity of walking for exercise is growing. Health benefits include reductions in cholesterol, blood pressure and weight, and increases in bone strength and cardiovascular endurance.
How to begin: To start a walking program, there are a few guidelines. Loose, layered clothing and shoes specifically designed for walking are recommended.
Warm-up stretches are essential. Other tips include increasing walking time gradually; keeping the head raised, shoulders relaxed and arms moving; and not walking so fast that you can't talk.
Time limits for walking vary with the experts. Some recommend a minimum of 20 minutes a day. Others say walks must last longer than 30 minutes to burn stored fat. Still another recommendation is to fit a walk into your schedule whenever possible, even if it means two or more 10-minute walks per day.
The only hard and fast rule is to keep moving and enjoy the benefits of regular exercise.