Jessica Lewis has trained to run Anniston's Woodstock 5K for the first time Saturday not just for herself, but for her daughter.

"I decided in the spring to get healthy for my daughter," Lewis said, whose child turns 2 years old in October. "I wanted to run around outside with her without losing my breath."

Lewis, 26, of Munford, will be one of nearly 1,200 people who will run in the 34th annual Woodstock 5K Saturday. Some health experts say 5K events are a good way to help motivate residents to live healthier lifestyles — something sorely needed in a state with one of the highest rates of obesity in the country.

Lewis said training for 5K runs this year has helped her lose weight and not slack off. Lewis ran her first race in May in Birmingham.

"You don't want to go out there and look like a fool, so you have to train to push your body," Lewis said. "And as soon as I get past one 5K, I immediately sign up for another to keep me going."

Lewis added that she also started eating healthier foods and formed a team to run with her during the Woodstock, partially to help further motivate her. Lewis said she also has her father's memory for even more motivation. Lewis' father ran the Woodstock for years before he died 10 years ago, she said.

"I now run three to four times a week," Lewis said.

Ann Angell, director of the Oxford YMCA, a fitness instructor and personal trainer, said 5K runs are a good way to motivate people to get healthier.

"Yes, we do promote that a 5K is doable for just about anybody," Angell said.

All 5K races are 3.1 miles.

Angell said that there are also many 5K races for residents to choose from these days. Years ago, there would be only three or four 5Ks scheduled a year in the area, Angell said.

"Now you can find one nearly every weekend," she said.

The rise in popularity of 5Ks comes at a time when Alabama is struggling with finding an answer to its high rate of obesity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama has, at 33 percent, the fourth-highest rate of obesity compared to all other states in the U.S. Obesity can lead to life-threatening health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Mark Lentz, president of the Anniston Runners Club, said 5K events like Woodstock can help encourage residents to get in shape.

"It is often necessary to have a goal in mind when you are changing your lifestyle," Lentz said. "Sometimes it is too much to just do it, but, if you have friends, if you have a festive environment, if you have a huge number of supporters, sometimes that is what you need to make some significant changes."

Dr. Olivia Affuso, an associate scientist in the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center and the Center for Exercise Medicine, agreed that events like 5K runs can spur people to healthier lifestyles.

"They're more accessible to people who have not had a long history of physical activity ... people of different shapes and sizes," Affuso said. "They go and see other people who are successful and say, 'if so and so can do it, I can too.'"

Affuso noted, however, that it takes more than just exercise to truly lower obesity rates.

"Physical activity is great for health across the board ... it helps in weight management and staving off obesity," Affuso said. "But consistently research has shown that for people to really lose weight, they have to change their diet and not do just more physical activity."

Lewis said she encourages anyone wanting to get healthier to use a 5K event as a fitness goal and then push forward from there.

"It works and makes you feel good," Lewis said.


Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.