Retail therapy isn’t a term typically associated with physical health, but there are benefits to making a trip around your local shopping centre on foot. Regular walking is an activity which can help to lower blood pressure and diabetes risk, and improve bone strength.
Shopping centres can vary significantly in size and shape. Some plazas may even be several miles long, and provide ample opportunity for someone to increase their step count.
We thought it might be interesting to compare the 10 largest shopping centres in the UK, to see how many steps and calories it would take to complete a walking circuit of the main plaza in each.
- The intu Metrocentre in Gateshead, with a plaza length of 3.5 miles, tops the list. A complete circuit of both floors would take 7,000 steps.
- The average woman would burn 294 calories walking this distance, while the average man would burn 349.
- 294 calories is roughly the equivalent of a regular McDonald’s cheeseburger, whereas 349 calories is approximately the same as two pints of lager.
Below are the full results from our analysis:
- intu Metrocentre in Gateshead has the longest plaza on our list, with 3.5 miles of shop fronts.
- Walking at 2.5 miles per hour, a circuit would take 84 minutes to complete.
- For someone weighing the average UK female weight of 11 stone, this would burn 294 calories, while for someone at the average male weight of 13 stone, this would burn 349.
- The main plaza at intu Trafford Centre is 3 miles long, and would take someone walking at an average pace 72 minutes to finish.
- For someone weighing 11 stone, this would burn 252 calories (roughly the same as a portion of french fries).
- For someone weighing 13 stone, this would burn 299 calories (about the same as an almond croissant).
- Westfield Stratford City comes in third for overall centre size, at 175,000 square metres.
- Walking the plaza would burn 126 and 149 calories in those weighing 11 or 13 stone respectively.
- A circuit of the Bluewater in Kent spans around 2 miles.
- This would take just under an hour to walk at average walking speed.
- Someone weighing 11 stone would burn 168 calories (just under 4 Jaffa Cakes) walking this distance, whereas someone weighing 13 stone would burn 199 (roughly a glass of wine).
- An uninterrupted walking circuit of the main plazas at Liverpool ONE and Westfield London, both around 1.75 miles, would take three quarters of an hour.
- This would burn just shy of 150 calories (a can of cola) for someone weighing 11 stone, and 174 calories (a packet of ready salted crisps) for someone weighing 13 stone.
- Walking the length of the main plaza of the intu Merry Hill centre in the West Midlands would chalk up roughly 2000 steps, which is about one mile.
- This would burn 84 calories for an 11 stone person and 100 for an 13 stone person.
- 84 calories is about the same as a chocolate digestive, whereas 100 calories is the same as a 170g tub of Greek yoghurt.
- Completing a walking circuit of Meadowhall in Sheffield, the Arndale in Manchester or the intu Lakeside centre in Essex would set someone back approximately 1600 steps.
- This equates to over three quarters of a mile, and 67 calories for someone weighing 11 stone, or 80 calories for someone weighing 13 stone.
Full results can be found in the table at the bottom of this page.
Shopping for health
When we think of retail therapy, most of us will associate the term with 'comfort-buying'; one or more indulgent purchases someone might make to temporarily improve their mood during times of hardship.
However, one particular aspect of shopping which can be of substantial, lasting benefit to our physical health, but which we might not often consider, is walking.
The benefits of stepping to it
In exercise terms, brisk walking counts as moderate-intensity physical activity (which, according to official guidelines, adults should undertake for 150 minutes per week). Walking contributes towards good cardiovascular health, is a weight-bearing exercise which is beneficial for our bones, and can lower the risk of chronic illness.
And, like any other physical activity, walking also burns calories. Typically, someone who weighs 11 stone will burn between four and five calories per minute walking at an average speed; which may not sound like much, but quickly adds up the more hours you put in. The more active someone is, the easier it is for them to maintain a healthy weight, or to create a calorie deficit if they're trying to lose weight.
Clearly shopping today is much different to how it was 20 years ago. Many consumers can now go online to get the items they need; the benefit of internet platforms and services is that they offer speed, convenience and sometimes, depending on the item sought, cheaper prices.
But while shopping from home has its logistical benefits, doing so all of the time isn’t conducive to reaching our physical activity goals. Getting the items we need inside the time we need, while maintaining a physically active lifestyle, surely lends itself towards a mixture of both shopping online and shopping in person.
There are times of the year, such as during the close run-up to Christmas, when shopping in person may be a stressful prospect. In this case, getting some items online before braving the mall can ease your workload.
However, shopping in person during quieter times of year (such as now, during the run-up to spring) is usually a lot less hectic, and can be an opportunity to make up some valuable extra steps.
It was with this in mind that we decided to have a closer look at some of the step and calorie figures a standard shopping trip might involve.
- We took a look at the 10 largest shopping centres in the UK, and compared the main plaza lengths of each to see how many steps a typical circuit consists of.
- We compiled walking routes which covered the shopping plazas on each floor, and where possible we excluded food courts, or areas specifically dedicated to restaurants and bars.
- The routes involved no or as little doubling back along the same path as possible.
- All plaza lengths recorded were approximate.
- We based our step counts (2,000 per mile) on estimates from the American College of Sports Medicine.
- Calories burned figures were compiled using the MET value formula, as described in the 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.
- We used the average UK weights of 11 stone (70kg) for women and 13 stone (83kg) for men as the basis for our calculations.
- It’s worth noting that in reality, a shopping trip may well involve doubling back and making several circuits of a mall, or zig-zagging between shops on different sides of the plaza, which would increase the total step count further.
- One other factor our figures don’t take into account is the steps walked inside the shops themselves. Completing a circuit of a multi-floored department store for instance, in addition to the main plaza, could also exponentially increase the total distance walked.
With these factors in mind then, while the size of a shopping centre will undoubtedly have some influence on the number of calories someone burns on a typical visit, we aren’t suggesting that it will necessarily bear a direct correlation to the average number of calories burned.
So while these results might serve as an indication of the energy used walking a circuit of each centre, they can’t be used a definitive guide to the number of calories someone could expect to burn during a visit. That would obviously depend on the activity of the individual shopper.
Our tips for a more active shop
There are some ways you can make your visit to the mall more physically active and increase your step count even further:
- Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator wherever possible.
- If you’re looking for a specific item and have time to spare, don’t settle on buying it in the first shop you visit. Walk to the other shops in the centre and see if you can find it at a cheaper price.
- Choose a parking spot which gives you some distance to walk to the centre, as opposed to finding the closest possible spot.
- Go when it’s quieter. The less busy it is, the more space you will have to move around, and the less inclined you will be to skip shops on your itinerary. In many cases, lunchtime (12-3pm) and early evening (5-6pm) during the week, and all afternoon (12-5pm) at weekends tend to be the busiest times. However checking the popular times chart on Google search for your local centre can usually give you a good idea of when it’s going to be quiet.
- Walk briskly if you can. If you’ve allocated yourself a set number of hours to shop, walking at a good pace will enable you to cover more ground and get more steps in.
Shopping centre step leaderboard
[click on the table to enlarge]