Malls are for more than just racking up your credit card bill. Mall walking is a great way to get your winter exercise!

I went to the Annapolis mall this weekend to find storefronts plastered with post-holiday sale signs, but the halls (almost) completely deserted. That's because it was 7 a.m. on a Sunday. Outside it was horribly windy. The temperature itself wasn't that bad (hovering around the low-40s), but the wind ripped right through me, and the wetness from Saturday's rain made it feel like ice. So where was I going to take a hyperactive one-year-old and still get my running in? The mall. 

The Annapolis mall, like many others, opens well before the stores do. This is to accommodate the mall-walking crowd. If your parents rolled your eyes at you when you were a teenager for wanting to walk around the mall on a Saturday evening, well, the tables have turned because I saw lots of adults walking around the mall that morning. With a 1.4-mile perimeter, a lap or two kicks your day off on the right foot.

mall

At 1.4 miles in perimeter, the Westfield Annapolis Mall is a great venue for a warm winter walk. Courtesy of patch.com.

Aside from my kid loving it (colorful lights, new and different sounds, seemingly endless places to run) mall walking has some really great benefits, making it the second most popular place to go walking other than your neighborhood!

1. Weather control.

I've already touched on this one. Bad weather isn't a factor when you go walking at the mall. It can be rainy, cold, hot, humid, or whatever outside. The mall is typically going to be a mild temperature with highly controlled humidity levels. No rain, but plenty of skylights for the sun to shine through. You don't have to layer up with a bulky jacket or slather on sunscreen to exercise at the mall. You don't need to check the weather before you head out the door. It's predictable!

2. It's safe!

You don't have to worry about walking alone. There are lots of other exercise-focused people walking in the morning at the mall. I even saw some of the mall security guards there. They were gearing up mostly for the Sunday shopping crowds, but, hey, it never hurts to have them around! But the mall is safe for other reasons, too.

No vehicular traffic. You don't have to worry about crossing the street, crazy drivers, or exhaust fumes polluting your breathing air. 

It's safe for your physical health, too! The floors are completely level (think: no twisted ankles or tripping on uneven terrain). There are lots of benches if you need to take a low-key break, and there are plenty of water fountains to stay hydrated.

3. It's free!

This one is self-explanatory. You don't need a gym membership or to pay any entrance fee to work out at the mall. You just show up with your walking shoes and enjoy yourself. If you walk at the mall before it opens, too, you can window-shop all you want without having to work hard at resisting the temptation to buy anything! All the shops are still closed! 

People exercise at the mall at all different paces. Some people walk fast, some people walk slow, some people power walk so quickly they could probably beat me at my jogging pace! Some malls even organize little fun runs (I would warn you though: the surfaces at the mall are very hard so if you're injury-prone, you may want to just stick to walking). Really, as much as we would like to come up with excuses, there isn't any reason we can't get exercise in the winter. We just have to get creative!

Does your mall have a mall-walking program? Have you ever taken advantage? Let us know in the comments!

The Run-Around is a weekly feature, focusing on fitness in and around Annapolis, MD.