Following a medical procedure in early January, my cardiologist recommended walking daily, beginning with a 15-minute jaunt and slowly working up to an hour at a stretch. All well and good during more hospitable seasons, or in the sunny south, but it is winter, and I didn't feel up to braving the inclement Berkshire weather.
So my wife, Susan, and I began following the narrow black marble strip along the inside of the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough. I would later learn from General Manager Joe Scelsi that the strip is "a nine-tenths-of-a-mile loop following the center perimeter inside the mall."
During our first trek, we encountered walkers we recognized and many others that would soon become familiar faces, most walking at different speeds and durations. And as our early visits increased, we found that eventually we were devoting an hour to exercise before seriously thinking -- "time for the the coffee shop."
Across the country, shopping malls large and small open their doors early to allow walkers to exercise in safety. In their climate-controlled environs, regardless of the season, rain, oppressive heat and humidity, or snow, ice, and toe-chilling cold have no influence.
Here, free from ticks, tree roots and slippery paths, curbs, uneven sidewalks and traffic, the Berkshire Mall doors open at 6 a.m. And for those holding a 9-to-5 job, walking in a well-lit mall beats walking in the dark, especially at this season. The mall locks its doors at 10 p.m. (On Sunday the mall is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
"Mall walkers are welcome," Scelsi said, "and surprisingly, we have more during the summer; maybe it is because many of our older walkers are snowbirds. And once a week, between 8:30 a.m. and 10:20 a.m. Jackie Rhinemiller, R.N., comes down from Adams to offer a free blood pressure clinic at the Food Court."
One morning I met up with Maureen Russo of Pittsfield.
"I walk here approximately 3 miles a day, 7 days a week," she said. "I started last June when school got out. Originally, I walked outside. I switched to mall walking when the weather got very hot and humid. I find walking indoors preferable because I can set a good pace without having to worry about stopping to yield for traffic, and I don't have to worry about curbs and uneven sidewalks."
While the mall walker won't delight in sugar maples, woodland ferns, and songbirds flitting through the trees, neither will the mall walker encounter black flies, ticks and mosquitoes.
And the mall has its own foliage.
The peace lily, with its outlandish white blossoms, is in flower now.
"We get our foliage plants locally at Dr. Lahey's Garden Center and our maintenance people care for them," Scelsi said, adding, "the floor-to-skylight fig trees have been here since the mall opened."
Dracaena, Dumb cane (dieffenbachia), palms, umbrella plants, Schefflera, large-leaved Monstera, and several Philodendron species may also be found by anyone with an observant eye.
While I always considered getting from Point A to Point B the only reason to walk about a mall, I have come to enjoy walking indoors in addition to our woodland adventures, with benefits that will decrease my risk of a heart attack and other health problems, including the added bonus of helping to keep cholesterol under control.
Just think about it: Mall walking enables you to window shop with your friends while getting exercise.