“Teachers follow Teachers” – Keeping up with the Iverson Mall Walkers, Temple Hills, MD

Jessie Clarke’s tracking sheet – Mall walking

When I asked Jessie Clarke how this group managed to organize itself and stay organized, the quote in the title of the post is what she told me. Apparently, there are a lot of retired teachers in this group (file that tip away for changing societal determinants of health…).

At first glance you might see something titled “Mall Walkers” and think, “Oh, so you walk in the mall and that’s good for you.” This is not about shopping malls, it’s about people, read on.

A group of us went to spend time with the Iverson Mall Walkers in Temple Hills, Maryland to celebrate their accomplishments and see how they do it up close. They are walking celebrities (or should I say walking royalty?) at this point, since they are featured on the digital walking wall at the Center for Total Health (you can see the film that features them here).

When I sat down next to Jessie Clarke, she kindly showed me how the system works. Every walker gets a tracking sheet where each lap is converted into miles and followed. When they are walking, they wear a badge that marks any significant ongoing medical conditions (blood pressure, diabetes), and bring with them a list of their medications that a nurse checks over (medication reconciliation!) with them. Top floor is for fast walkers, bottom floor is for slower walkers. Milestones are tracked in a separate notebook and awards are given, in increments of 250 miles. 250 MILES.

Jessie’s been walking since age 75, and she’s now 83. She used to be a teletype operator for the US Pentagon (she’s been in social media since before the Internet :)). Like all of her fellow walkers, she looks fit. They all look fit. If you look around the mall and this community, you could think of many reasons why people here would not be fit. And yet they are.

I took advantage of the time to have a few walking meetings myself, with colleague David Mays and superstar family physician excise expert Bob Sallis, MD. We got passed up a few times, next time we may have to walk on the lower level.

It’s worth noticing that there’s no fancy apps, no computerized spreadsheets, no pedometers, a smidge of gaming, a lot of leadership and a lot of respect for people’s accomplishments. You don’t need a shopping mall, however, having the sponsorship of one is great.

Experiences like this make me a little skeptical of pure “app” solution to a problem that doesn’t start with the people.

Needless to say, if I ever needed more inspiration to make every activity a walking activity, this will provide me a lifetime’s worth. Put on your walking shoes!

Ted Eytan, MD