Peachtree Mall walkers stay happy, healthy and social

To some people, Peachtree Mall is much more than a place with a wide variety of stores at which to shop. It is somewhere to keep fit.

These folks arrive at the mall on Manchester Expressway in Columbus as early as 7 a.m., when management unlocks the doors for them, and begin walking. Most are senior citizens.

Three days a week at 8 a.m., several participate in a free 30-minute exercise session.

The mall does not open early on Sunday.

Bill Murray, 84, and his wife, Clyde, 85, hold hands as they stroll at a brisk pace along their favored route. They have been mall walkers for about 35 years.

Clyde Murray said that when they first started coming there was a fellow walker who had been given a key to the mall to let folks into the building. "It was just a handful of people then, nothing like what we have now," she said.

"We do a couple of miles," said Bill Murray. "We look forward to coming and get here early."

Both said another reason for mall walking, besides staying healthy, is the social aspect.

"We have met some of the nicest people," said Clyde Murray.

Mall general manager Chris McCoy said he is glad to make the building available for walkers in the community and that they are like family. He said people expressed a desire to walk in the mall and that there is plenty of security.

"It is a great fellowship," McCoy said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says physical activity such as walking can help improve health even without weight loss. People who are physically active have a lower risk for heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers.

The Arthritis Foundation says walking slows mental decline. That research has found that age-related memory decline is lower in those who walked more. It also improves sleep.

Brenda Russell, 67, began walking just a year ago after she retired from a job in human resources. She had never had done much walking before, and the idea never appealed to her. She decided to give it a try to see if it would help with her multiple sclerosis.

"I got so sick I knew I needed to do something. I didn't like it when I started, but the mall walking has made a real difference in my life," said Russell, whose husband, John Russell, accompanies her. She said that because of the walking and a better diet, she has lost 70 pounds.

"I have seen dramatic improvement in my muscles and balance," Brenda Russell said.

Mary Beck Hercules, 51, is a physical therapist with the Muscogee County School District. She walks with her 90-year-old mother, Fran Olive.

"She really had no other place to go," Hercules said. "She had fallen outside and didn't feel safe. Here you can come rain or shine, cold or hot. Some of the walkers and exercise participants have medical issues that would prevent them from walking outside. You don't have to sign anything, you just come. People look after each other."

There's no sign-up sheet, but people do get to know each other and if someone is sick, a get-well card is sure to be signed and delivered.

"People like to stay connected," said Hercules.

After or before a walk, many sit in the food court and talk.

Christine Granillo, 62, has been walking for about 10 years. When she first began at the mall, she thought the idea was "cute."

Granillo, along with 77-year-old Jane Adams, leads the exercise group on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Adams, who said she has been exercising her whole life, said some participants bring dumbbells to use.

"It is all about gaining flexibility as well as getting an aerobic workout," said Adams.

Granillo said some people are so enthusiastic that they walk outside the mall before the doors open.

"Walkers come and choose their own route," Granillo said. "It all depends on which door one comes in."

Another benefit of mall walking is looking in the windows and seeing what the stores have to offer.

Adams has been mall walking for 20 years and likes to go "real fast."

"It is just something that is good for the mind and the body," Hercules said. "We are grateful to Peachtree Mall for letting us do this."