Midlife and older adults use shopping malls for walking, but little research has examined mall characteristics that contribute to their walkability.
We used modified versions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-Healthy Aging Research Network (HAN) Environmental Audit and the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) tool to systematically observe 443 walkers in 10 shopping malls. We also observed 87 walkers in 6 community-based nonmall/nongym venues where older adults routinely walked for physical activity.
All venues had public transit stops and accessible parking. All malls and 67% of nonmalls had wayfinding aids, and most venues (81%) had an established circuitous walking route and clean, well-maintained public restrooms (94%). All venues had level floor surfaces, and one-half had benches along the walking route. Venues varied in hours of access, programming, tripping hazards, traffic control near entrances, and lighting.
Despite diversity in location, size, and purpose, the mall and nonmall venues audited shared numerous environmental features known to promote walking in older adults and few barriers to walking. Future research should consider programmatic features and outreach strategies to expand the use of malls and other suitable public spaces for walking.