Who’s Who: Hawazen Al-Hassoun, chief operations officer at PwC Middle East in Saudi Arabia

Who’s Who: Hawazen Al-Hassoun, chief operations officer at PwC Middle East in Saudi Arabia
Who’s Who: Hawazen Al-Hassoun, chief operations officer at PwC Middle East in Saudi Arabia

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: An increasingly familiar sight in Saudi Arabia’s malls is people stretching their legs and strolling past shoppers.

Mall walking, or ‘mallercise,’ is a safe — and free — option for people who want to be physically active and would rather not pay a hefty fee to join a gym. It is especially attractive when the hot weather makes outdoor pursuits too uncomfortable. Indeed, mall walking has become prevalent among Saudi residents, a way to keep an eye out for sales while burning calories.

Walking is widely held to be one of the most beneficial forms of basic exercise, and step-counting is a great motivational tactic for achieving fitness goals. So for many men and women, an hour of walking at the mall is a two-for-one.

Manal Alanazi, a 40-year-old Saudi resident of Riyadh, told Arab News: “I like walking at night, and walking around the mall is my best option as I feel safer there than walking around my neighborhood — there’s a security guard at every gate and all around the mall.”

I have been a guard for a long time, and I can tell when people enter the mall if they are here to shop or to exercise.

Ahmed Saeed, Mall security guard

There are more men mall-walking than women, according to Ahmed Saeed, a security guard at Riyadh’s Al-Nakheel Mall.

“I have been a guard for a long time, and I can tell when people enter the mall if they are here to shop or to exercise,” he claimed, adding that mall-walking is especially popular during Ramadan. “That is the busiest time. Partly because of Eid shopping, but mostly because people are trying to either keep up their weight or lose weight ahead of Eid.”

As the number of malls across the Kingdom increases, so too does the number of mall walkers. However, as Saeed Abdullah, a 58-year-old retired engineer from the Eastern Province, noted, not every mall is suitable for exercising.

“I live in Dammam, and although there are several malls here, I only go to one particular mall for my daily walking because it is structured like an indoor running track,” he said.

Mall walking is especially well-suited to older citizens who might not want to go to a crowded gym — and for whom many sports may now pose a physical risk. Fatmah Alomar, a fitness trainer in a Riyadh gym, said “We hardly see senior citizens. Most of our gym members are young girls and middle-aged women.

“In recent years, we added an indoor running track in our gyms to attract more senior citizens to join our centers, and there is a set of machines to help those suffering from knee pain,” Alomar continued.

The mall-walking trend suggests that people in the Kingdom have come up with creative ways to work on their physical fitness. Sports Boulevard, one of the megaprojects being developed in Riyadh, will also make safe, comfortable spaces for walking more accessible to the city’s residents.

Slated to be the world’s largest linear park, Sports Boulevard will include more than 50 sports facilities “to promote the physical and social health of everyone in Riyadh, providing an alternative, permanent and superior option for those exercising in malls,” said Ahmad bin Askar, Sports Boulevard’s chief communications officer.

One of the main aims of Sports Boulevard is to encourage residents of all age groups, including senior citizens, to take up grassroots sports. It will be a combination of “green living through state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities,” according to bin Askar.

 

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