Ask any of the approximate 200 "Mall Milers" who are registered to walk at The Mall in Columbia, or the same number of "Rise and Shiners"who are registered at Chatham Mall, why they choose to take their morning hikes in either place, and they will explain quicker than you can say "target heart rate."
"It's weather-controlled, the floor isflat and you can have a cup of coffee when you're through," said Joan Wolter, 59, of Columbia.'
Wolter has been lightly treading the brick floors of The Mall three mornings a week for two years.
"We get passed by a lot of people," Wolter said. "We do it to socialize as well as to burn off some calories."
The walking program at the Columbia mall was organized two years ago and is sponsored by the American Heart Association, the Maryland National Bank, the Columbia Association, Howard Community College and the county's Office on Aging and the Department of Recreation and Parks.
It costs nothing to join. Walkers are welcome Mondaythrough Saturdays from 6 to 9 a.m., and on Sundays from 9 to 11 a.m.During the holidays, Sunday hours will be an hour earlier.
"We are not structured," said Suellen Weisberg, coordinator of community events. "Some walk in groups, others walk individually and many have met friends while walking here."
Another walking twosome, Doris Brashears and Marion Simmons, both "over 45," walk five days a week at the Columbia mall.
"We run into the same people from day to day," Brashears said. "The mall staff is so pleasant. We usually walk with another friend, and when that person is missing, they will always ask, 'Where's your buddy?' "
Such conviviality among walkers has resulted in several get-togethers with refreshments that are held throughout the year in the mall conference room and at the tree court during holidays and seasonal events. The mall also provides programs that promote healthy lifestyles. Topics have included information on diet andnutrition, and instruction on how to take a pulse and determine one's heart rate.
Upcoming plans include a newsletter called Mileposts, with recipes and other tidbits such as "who has racked up the the highest number of miles," said Weisberg.
Packets of walking information, including a map of the mall and various quarter-mile points, are available on a table near the mall's Bun Penny side entrance. Weisberg says that the lower part of the mall, if walked twice, is just short of one mile. The upper level, when walked twice, is slightly morethan a mile.
The "Rise and Shiners" at Chatham Mall experience many of the same pleasures as their Columbia neighbors with one addition -- blood pressure checks. A volunteer nurse from the Red Cross is available on the premises to check pulses and blood pressure at the walkers' request.
The checks are always done for new people enteringthe program, said Betty Ann Akiyama, nursing coordinator for the Howard County Red Cross.
"We suggest that they have their blood pressure checked once a month," she said. "Many ask us to take their bloodpressure before they see their doctor."
The 5-year-old program, sponsored by the Red Cross and the mall, is officially available to walkers from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Joan Post, manager of the mall, says the names of about 500 people, including repeat walkers, appear on the registration list every month. About 20 people walk each day, she said.
"Many of the walkers have made friends with each other," Post said. "During the holidays, they organize luncheons and various activities." Frequently they go out for breakfast together afterward. Post said many of the walkers come from the Heartlands retirement community in Ellicott City, and others live in the nearby Chatham Apartments.
Post estimates that with the recent expansion of the mall, walkers can cover about three-quarters of amile each time around. The mall provides a chart for walkers to keeptrack of their mileage.
Although no walkers are appearing at the Historic Savage Mill, general manager Beverly Schwink says she would very much welcome them. The lower level of the mall is about 36,000 square feet, and Schwink estimates that walkers could pad around the area about 10 times before reaching a mile. Doors to the mill are openbetween 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.; shops open at 10 a.m.