Emily Gilbert is the first to admit it: She's an on-again, off-again exerciser. Ever since her college lacrosse team days, she's geared up many times to make exercise a habit again, but then fallen off that wagon just as many times.
But now, the 24-year-old publicist from San Diego says she has a plan and is sure she will soon become a regular exerciser. She's training for a 5K that she plans to run in about three months. ''The stability of needing to train will keep me in the process [of working out],'' she says. She's hoping training for the 5K will help her make that transformation to a regular, lifelong exerciser.
"I want to get back into that mentality," Gilbert says.
Picking a 5K -- 3.1 miles -- as her route back to fitness is smart of Gilbert, exercise experts agree. And she's not alone in thinking that training for her first 5K may propel her on the road to lifetime fitness.
It's among the most popular of road racing event distances, says Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, a national association of running clubs and events. "The boom is in the 5K and the half marathon," she tells WebMD.
''I think the 5K is a great distance for beginning runners," Knaack says. Or even walkers, as many 5K events are now billed as run/walks.
Why? The 5K is doable, Knaack says, even if you've spent many more hours in front of the TV than on a treadmill, if you train appropriately.
Here, experts talk about how you can join Gilbert in going from the couch to the 5K course, paying attention not only to your physical training but also your mental attitude. In three months or less, you could go from couch spud to fitness star. (It's always recommended, especially for adults over 50, that sedentary people check in with their doctor before starting to train.)
Psych Yourself Up -- and Off the Couch
While most people focus on the physical training -- at least feeling comfortable jogging or walking 3 miles or so before the big event -- mentally preparing is just as important, says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego.
Step one, he says, is not thinking about the 3 miles, which can be intimidating, but the steps it takes to get there. ''Think about the process,"' Comana tells WebMD. That breaks down what might seem intimidating -- run 3+ miles when you have yet to run 1 -- into manageable chunks.
For instance, you may tell yourself: "Long term, I am getting ready for a 5K. But for the next two weeks, my process goal is to be able to get off the couch and jog or walk at a reasonable pace. I will try 1K."