HANOVER – Doug Dale, 68, has walked nearly 3,000 miles without leaving Arundel Mills Mall.
“He has walked past me so many times,” said a laughing Ann Rollins, 77, a fellow walker who has 1,340 miles to her name.
People like Rollins and Dale, who log their miles of walking as part of the Arundel Mills Milers program, helped make Maryland seniors among the most active in the country, according to a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics.
The survey found that 70 percent of Marylanders age 65 and over do some sort of exercise, the eighth-highest rate in the country. Nationally, 62.7 percent of people in that age group exercise regularly.
Experts cannot explain why a relatively high percentage of Maryland’s senior citizens are so active, but it may have something to do with their education, said Dr. Sidney Stahl, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging.
“Maryland tends to be a pretty well-educated community. And there seems to be an association between level of education and exercise among older people,” Stahl said.
The Census Bureau reported that 31 percent of adults in Maryland had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2000, compared to the national average of 24 percent.
The survey considered running, calisthenics, golf, gardening and walking as exercise activities. But just moving about is good for the body, Stahl said.
“When you talk to older people, many times they get the sense that exercise is running a 10K race or lifting 100 pounds. That is not at all the case,” he said. “The key issue at maintaining physical and emotional and cognitive well-being is to stay physically active.”
And nearly half of older people get their exercise by walking.
The AARP, a nonprofit membership organization representing people age 50 and older, has done its own research on exercise regimens among the elderly community, and it confirmed their love of walking.
“Walking was the most preferred activity among all senior citizens,” said Margaret Hawkins, fitness specialist at the AARP.
The reason, she said, is simple: Walking is easy to do.
“You don’t need to schedule a time. You can do it anywhere, any place. If the weather is bad you can do it in malls,” Hawkins said.
Arundel Mills Mall is where Dale and Rollins enjoy their daily regimen of walking. The Arundel Mills Milers program is sponsored by North Arundel Hospital, which has an information outlet in the mall where walkers can leave their coats. The program has over 1,000 registered walkers.
Dale and Rollins have been coming to Arundel Mills Mall to walk before the stores open at 10 a.m. for three years — although Rollins recently took two weeks off to recover from a fall she suffered while walking around her neighborhood.
“If you do all the perimeter of it — like the entrances and the movie court and the food court — it’s actually 1 mile,” Dale said.
For the first three months, he tested the distance with a pedometer, and it was consistently 1 mile.
Dale walks 5 miles every day, four days a week. That pace has allowed him to log the most miles of the Arundel Mills Milers — 2,825 miles as of the last count in mid-January. By now, he is closing in on 3,000 miles.
Both walkers said they go out of their way to get to Arundel Mills because of the free blood pressure screenings that the hospital regularly provides.
The National Institute on Aging says endurance exercises, like walking, can prevent diseases associated with aging, such as diabetes, colon cancer and heart disease.
Hawkins said the AARP’s research found there is not one reason why senior citizens choose to exercise.
“Specific activities were prompted by several things: a desire for health and fitness, enjoyment of the activity, a chore that needed to be done,” she said.
Dale said he likes walking because it keeps his heart healthy. And he walks indoors because the temperature outside is never just right.
“It got too cold in the winter, and too hot in the summer,” he said.
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