Many people spend New Year's Day languishing in the wake of the previous evening's vice, a meal of cabbage and black-eyed peas the most ambitious item on the holiday agenda. But this year, more than 300,000 men, women and children across the U.S. will not only resolve to undertake a healthier lifestyle, they'll put that goal into action by completing a 5k on the first day of the year.
"The Commitment Day 5k encourages all age levels and physical fitness levels to commit to a healthier way of life and help others do the same," says Karen Jayne Greenwood, a spokeswoman for the event. "This is a great first 5k for everyone, because it isn't timed. You can jog, walk, kids can come in strollers, pets on leashes. It's just to get the community out and moving."
The inaugural event was created as a response to the ongoing health crises in Louisiana and beyond. Greenwood says 33 percent of New Orleanians are obese, 25.8 million Americans have diabetes, and a child's life expectancy is now shorter than that of his or her parents, owing largely to obesity. Making a decision to lead a healthier lifestyle and setting a goal can be a terrific way to make a significant impact on health, says Dr. Ben Springgate, an internal medicine physician at Crescent City Physicians.
"Any reason people can identify that gets them moving is the right reason," Springgate says. "New Year's is a great reason. If there's a race, that's another great reason."
Greenwood says the accountability factor involved with Commitment Day helps participants strengthen their resolve. "Publicly proclaiming what you're committed to (via the event's website and by registering for the 5k) will help you keep your goal in mind," she says.
Gini Davis, a physical therapist and owner of Crescent City Physical Therapy, has been a runner for more than 40 years. She echoes these sentiments.
"There's a lot of power in being able to make a commitment, start slowly, and continue to do it when it is only for you," she says. "A commitment to health and well-being is incredibly important for each of us to do." However, she cautions people who aren't active to get a physical exam before starting an exercise regimen. Everyone should train gradually, because it takes time for bones and muscles to accommodate the stress running places upon them, and get fitted for appropriate shoes.
"You're going to walk first," she says. "Don't start out running. Get a good pair of shoes — I tell people to go to a running specialty store like Phidippides or Louisiana Running Company, where knowledgeable people can help you select a shoe that's good for you."
Springgate says most 5k training programs designed for beginners are six to eight weeks long. For people who are already active or don't intend to run the entire distance, four weeks can be adequate preparation time.
"Even people with relatively little history of running or exercise can begin the journey and see whether or not they will get there," Springgate says. "Maybe they won't run the 5k, but they'll walk the 5k."
An event like Commitment Day also can be a springboard to do more and longer races, like the Crescent City Classic 10k in March, a way to become involved with the running community, and an entry point into what can be a rewarding lifetime sport, Davis says. It can also be the catalyst behind a number of positive lifestyle changes.
"Running and doing healthy exercise may help you look at other things in your life that may not be good for your health — you may notice if you ate a big meal or drank the night before, you wake up and don't feel like running," Davis says. "It's a way to pay attention to yourself, do something good for yourself and learn that you are in control of your body. So it can be really empowering for everything in your life."
Gini Davis' 5k and 10k training schedules are available online at www.ccc10k.com/training.html.
Registration for Commitment Day is online at www.commitmentday.com. Enter code NorlCD13 for a $5 discount.