A group of runners participate in the River Bank Run 5K race.
Want to run a 5K, 10K or 25K? Set a goal and make a plan for how to achieve it. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Why do you run? Why should anyone run?

I once had a patient I’ll call Laura who taught me the power of goal-setting and running.

I always knew goal-setting could be an effective motivator and used this in my personal life to get through school, medical training, fitness goals, to help my kids, and so forth, but had not explored how to utilize the power of a goal for healthy aging for others.

I remember seeing Laura for her annual physical, and she told me she had been through a rough time in her marriage, did not like her job, had stopped working out, gained weight, ate without planning or thinking, and did not feel attractive or energetic.

When asked what goal she had for herself at a date in the future, she said she wanted to be hot. She defined ‘hot’ as fit, back in her old clothes, and able to run and exercise like when she was 40.

My next question was, “How badly do you want this?” She told me she knew she wanted this.

In the past she had been a runner, and knew the River Bank Run was coming up. She told me to expect great things and left with her shoulders back and a smile.

More than a year later, while rushing through a busy day, I went around the corner fast in the hallway. I almost ran into a woman I did not recognize, and excused myself. It was Laura, and she laughed when she realized I did not recognize her. I looked closer and my chin dropped.

Laura had achieved her goal. She looked fit, had lost a significant amount of weight, and had a big smile on her face. She said, “I did it, I am hot!”

In the intervening year, she had gone online to the River Bank Run website, and used its planning tool to train for the race.

She had not run in years, and took the first several months slow, working on her endurance, and being careful to not get too impatient. She took note of warming up, stretching and improving her core strength to avoid injury, and even visited a local trainer to make sure she was being smart.

Once she built her base, she started working harder, and at the same time did research on a healthy diet for her workouts and made sure she had plenty of complex carbs like brown rice, Ezekiel bread, sweet potatoes and oatmeal.

Running most days helped her sleep improve, and on busy days she would even run indoors at 8 or 9 at night. Her mood improved, she made better choices in her personal and professional life, and began to fit into her old clothes again. The image of being hot at 50 kept her going, even on days she did not feel like running. She always felt better after a run.

Race day came and she finished in a respectable time. She lost 55 pounds, regained her self-respect and liked herself again. She was ready to enjoy her 50th.

I loved her story as it shows what a goal can do to motivate someone. Not only did she achieve her goal, but felt better and better each day. And not only did she change her outside, but her inside as well.

With exercise and weight loss come a healthier blood vessel system with smooth walls and a lower chance of building up plaque. This lowers the chance of dementia, stroke and heart attack.

Her bones increased in density, lowering the risk of osteoporosis and fracture. The weight loss also lowered her risk of many cancers, namely breast and uterine cancer.

Most of all, Laura took care of herself.

Even if running is not your thing, we encourage all people to set a life goal. Think of a key event in your life–a birthday, a child’s wedding (or your own), retirement, or a dream vacation. Write it down, talk about it, make a plan on how to achieve that goal, and get busy.