Mall walkers add strength training

Class' funding to expire at year's end, but hope exists for its renewal

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



• One lap around the mall (either level, not including the entry alcoves) is about .43 miles.

• Five laps around either level is about 2.2 miles.

• One lap around the mall (either level, not including the entry alcoves) is about .43 miles.

• Five laps around either level is about 2.2 miles.

Music plays softly as Shirley Hofmeister briskly walks the second floor of the Westfield Vancouver mall.

Storefronts are filled with Christmas decorations. White lights dangle from the ceiling. Signs promoting holiday sales speckle the hallways.

But on this morning, Hofmeister and her friends aren’t at the mall to shop. They are there to exercise.

“We walk, then we get strength training — and then we shop,” Hofmeister, 74, said.

Hofmeister is among the dozens of people who visit the mall before business hours and walk laps. The mall opens the doors to its common areas at 7 a.m., giving walkers three hours to exercise in the hallways before shoppers begin filing in.

In the winter months, the mall walker population spikes. On some mornings, up to 100 people can be found walking laps in the mall, said Chris Yates, marketing director at Westfield Vancouver mall.

Berla Gonzales, 66, started walking at the mall about three years ago. After being diagnosed with diabetes, Gonzales’ doctor told her she needed to start exercising.

So the Vancouver woman headed to the mall. Now, she and a group of her friends walk about an hour a day. When they’re done, they grab some coffee in the food court. On weekends, Gonzales stops by the mall after church and gets in a few laps.

The more active lifestyle has paid off. Gonzales said the walking has helped her to better manage her diabetes and her high blood pressure.

Like Gonzales, Hofmeister gets her daily exercise at the mall.

While walking one morning this summer, Hofmeister noticed a small group of people doing exercises in a common area. Curious, she asked what they were doing and learned about a free strength-training class taking place at the mall twice a week. Now, she’s a regular participant.

“I wouldn’t miss this for anything,” Hofmeister said.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, fitness instructor Kim Witherspoon leads the 30-minute class for anyone who wants to come. Participants use small hand weights and perform a range of exercises working their entire bodies. The classes wrap up with a little dancing, some stretching and plenty of high-fives.

In the last five months, the class has grown substantially.

When the class began in July, Witherspoon had four participants. Now, the class is regularly drawing 50 to 60 people.

Heidi Joiner, 30, came up from Portland to attend the class. Her husband is doing remodeling work at the mall, and one day, Joiner decided to walk around the mall while he worked.

She came across the strength-training class as she walked laps, then returned to the mall for the next couple of days in hopes of spotting the group again. On a recent Thursday morning, she joined the class for the first time.

“It’s just so incredible to see all these people,” Joiner said after the class.

“It’s not the most challenging class, but it was great,” she added. “This has to give you life to do this.”

Nicole Tiffany, 30, has been coming to the class for several months. She usually walks or jogs a few laps, pushing her two children — 2-year-old Gavin and 1-year-old Emma — in their stroller before the class begins.

If the kids get antsy, Tiffany takes a break and lets them climb on the play equipment. Once it’s time for class, the kids play with toys while Tiffany works out.

The class is more convenient than taking classes at a gym and lets everyone burn a little energy, Tiffany said.

“When you have two babies, you have to get them out of the house,” she said.

The free class, sponsored by PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center’s You 101 community outreach program, takes place from 9:30 to 10 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday in the common area by Victoria’s Secret.

Funding for the class is set to expire at the end of the year, but Witherspoon is hopeful another business will step in and sponsor the program so it can continue in 2014.

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