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What's Your Definition of Fitness?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I have a secret…and a small dilemma. Next week, I turn 29. OK, that part isn't really a secret, but it's relevant. After I turn 29, I'll be "almost 30." That doesn't bother me, but I've always had an image in my mind about what it might be like to ring in my third decade on this planet. My secret is a goal that I've never shared with anyone: to be in best shape of my life when I turn 30.
Now comes the problem: What exactly does it mean to be in the best shape of one's life? How does that look or feel? And what will it take to get there?
When I celebrate my 29th birthday next week, I'll do so fully knowing that I’m fitter than I've ever been in my life. I've reached some amazing fitness goals that I am really proud of, from completing two half marathons this year to running the 200-mile Hood To Coast relay, to returning to a regular yoga practice recently and actually enjoying it (even though I used to hate it). I've gotten faster, leaner, and stronger. I've developed better balance and core strength. Life in general feels easier for me in this fitter body, and I feel more confident than ever (a major feat for me). I know that by almost anyone's definition, I'm "fit." So why not stop there? Why not just maintain where I'm at?
Somehow, I want to do more and be better. I define "the best shape of my life" as simply "more" than where I am right now. But beyond that, I don't know what else to do. Exercising regularly—often daily—takes up a large part of my life, but I'm not sure that I have it in me to put more time into it or to give up other things (even I need some downtime) to reach this vague goal.
So what then? Do I have to run a marathon? Complete an ironman? Start doing Crossfit? Complete the "100 pushup challenge"? Start power lifting? Climb a mountain? Do I need to look leaner or more sculpted? Or do I measure my fitness in pounds lifted, miles run, or pull-ups achieved?
My dilemma in defining what fitness should look like or feel like for me might seem irrelevant to your own struggles to make exercise a habit. But in reality, we all have our own ideas of what fitness means, and where we think we fall on that scale. We all have to define what "fit" means to us and how far we're willing to go to achieve it.
My own idea of fitness always seems to be out of reach from where I am at the moment. It's always more toned than me, more dedicated than me, stronger or faster than me. When I achieve a new goal, like running my first half marathon this past spring, my first reaction is, "What can I do next?"

I never feel satisfied with where I am right now (I'm your classic Type A perfectionist). On one side of the coin, I'm sure this tendency to want to achieve more and more keeps me motivated to keep exercising to get fitter. But on the flipside, the feeling that no matter what I achieve, there's always something better or harder or bigger out there can be demoralizing. If my definition of fitness is always out of reach, what's the point? After all, I'm only human and I can only do so much.
I've been thinking about what's next for me since the status quo just doesn't keep me motivated. But I'm at a loss. Short of rearranging my whole lifestyle to do more exercise (and honestly, that just isn't appealing to me) or giving up other pursuits I enjoy so I can do different workouts, what more can I do while still maintaining sanity and balance in my lifestyle?  I'm afraid of accepting the idea that maybe this life—this body, this routine, this level of fitness—is all I can realistically hope to achieve. Maybe in lieu of trying to be in even better shape a year from now, I can instead strive to relax and enjoy the ride more. And to be grateful and proud of what I've achieved so far. And to accept that while I could always be fitter or stronger or faster, being fit enough is nothing to scoff at.
What do you think? How do you define "fitness" or know when you've finally achieved it? Do you think it's about always reaching farther, or is it OK to simply maintain? 

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I think fitness should be about balance. There's nothing 'fit' about allowing other areas of your life to suffer just so you can put in more hours at the gym or whatever. Fitness should be empowering and complimentary.

I think once you've achieved all those things then its a good time to USE you fitness for cool things. You have the physical ability and the confidence to do lots of things. So how about making fitness mean "able to have an adventure". One of the key reasons I want to get fit is so that I can run in cool places, climb things, swim through places, try new sports and generally do fun active things. Like kayaking down rapids or something! Report
This all depends on why you got fit in the first place. If it was for you then mainataining is fine - don't become a slave to some perfect model you think you need. If you got fit to impress others, the danger here is that you become manic about your fitness status so that you are never satisfied. Personally I think this is sad. I exercise at home using what I think is the best elliptical for home use and I can maintain my fitness and weight levels in convenience.

Personally I got fit and stayed fit for the sake of me, my husband and my children. We need to set a good example to our children so the message about the importance of being fit becomes generational. Report
My adult children do the P90X work out with Tony Horton & they feel that when they can do an hour with ease, they are at the "fit" level. After seven months my son, Neal says he is "over the hump" and he is doing it. Report
I think your perfectly fine,you are a perfect. Coach and inspiration. Don't get me wrong but maybe you'r missing something in your life, like having a hole that you want to fill with exercise, being fit isn't everything in life we need a balance: love, a partner, children, etc. Your are at your best right, but if fitness is your happiness go for it. Report
Fitness is always changing, as you get more fit you push yourself more. I have been at it for (I hate to say it, 34 years) and I have to say that I am lift more,etc than when I was younger. Report
That is a very good question. It's one I think only you can answer for yourself. You know you better than anyone else knows you. My goal for me is to be in the best physical shape I can and have people say "No way is that woman 55". So for me to have that I eat clean, lift weights and do cardio. Report
I could not agree more. I know what I can do to become a more fit person but quite honestly I am not willing to sacrafice my lifestyle for that goal. I am in the best shape I have ever been in, am healthy, and am pretty happy with how I look!!! I am sure there will be somethings that come along that will challenge me and make me want to work harder, but until that time comes I am happy just being in the moment! Report
Ive listened to the ladies in the locker room at the gym talking about improving their running times. It was then that I realized fitness can become a trap of sorts. Its possible to never be satisfied! So Im really working to try to always be my best. Good, better best, never let it rest till your good is better and your better is your best! This way I can have satisfaction, and its challenging also because I cant lie to myself. I know if I really did my best or not. My goal is to become used to doing my absolute best all the time. Report
These are interesting questions... how to define 'fit' and what is 'fit enough'. While I currently weigh less than I did over 20 years ago, I weigh more than I did 30 years ago. Yet, I can say with all honesty that I am more fit than I was 30 years ago... possibly more fit than at any point in my life prior to today. But I know that I am not 'fit enough'.
How will I know that I am? Not so easy to define. When I am within a healthy weight/BMI range, I'll be closer - and that isn't all that far away so it is something I should be thinking about. Right now, it seems that 'fit enough' will mean (for me) things like being able to remain active throughout the rest of the years I have left on this earth. I know... pretty vague. But when I see my mother and the other nursing home residents where she lives, that is my goal - that my brain and my body both maintain a level of fitness that matches well enough that I remain independent throughout my years.
Guess I'll have to think a little more to come up with what else it means as I get closer to being 'fit'. Thanks for the food for thought! Report
I'm not in the best shape of my life - well, not the lightest/thinnest. But I'm able to DO more than I've done in the past: I've done a couple half-Ironman triathlons, and will (hopefully!) complete my first (and only?) full Ironman this November. I'm not fast at all, but just finishing something like that is something pretty significant, I think! Personally, I need to have a goal like this because it keeps me motivated to keep working out. What's the point otherwise? Just because you "should" or just "to get fitter" is too vague for me. Sounds like you'll want to pick new goal to work toward, too, just based on everything you've said. Enjoy your journey! Report
First of all, please do take at least a minute to enjoy and be thankful for where you are right now! There is always another mountain to climb, and getting to the top (or the other side) is cool, but it is really the climb where the true accomplishment occurs. Instinctively, it sounds like you know there is no possible way for you to know how to define "the best shape of your life". So, I applaud you for contemplating this at 29... as many of us at 29 hadn't stopped to think this deeply! :-) Keep setting goals - no matter how tiny. Finding SP has put me back in touch with how effective it can be to set small goals and acheive them. Life is all about the small, consistent choices anyway. And I say this from the vantage point of TWO full decades more perspective as I am 49!
Thanks for all you share with the SP community to keep us ALL on track and reaching new heights each day! Report
I'm 58 and training to run in my second Portland Marathon. This week I am running in the Newport OR half marathon. When I was 29 I ran in a 15K (which was quite an accomplishment for me as way back then not many women ran in marathons). But I didn't stick with running all the I've constantly battled weight gain and loss and maintenance.

I arguably am now in the best shape of my life now...but I still am trying to find the next big challenge (after I finish the marathon, that is). Challenges are what make us obsessively goal-oriented folks tick. You, too, need to find some new goals and work towards them.

Training to run in a marathon may not be your next big goal. But consider it. 13 miles is good. Hood to Coast is great (I wish I could get on a team next year). But running 26.2 miles is special, too.

I am not sure whether I'll want to run longer distances...but the older you get (well into your 30s and even 40s) you can improve your pace and performance significantly. That's a pretty good motivator.

Let us know what goals you choose next. Take your time. Think about it. Try stuff out. And keep on exploring and pushing yourself. Fitness is a journey, too.

Take time to figure out some goal and go for it. After most people achieve their goals there is a bit of a figure out what's next. That's OK. But don't g Report
I think maintaining can be a goal in and of itself :) Report
I am in my 40's now and have never felt better. I don't look at fitness alone, I look at the big picture. WOuld I like to bench press my weight--not as much as walking up 6 flights of stairs without feeling totally winded. Do I want to be thin-- not as much as I would like to be at a healthy weight. I made some very big changes in the last 11 months. I changed my eating habits, i adjusted my workout habits, I adjusted my attitude toward food and exercise, I started to do more research on the medical front (ie-- taking prescription pills, flu shot etc) I like where I have gone and know that I still have a long way to go. I used to believe everything in moderation, but moderation feels like a cop out to me. though I love oreo cookies and m&M's, they have been removed from my diet. I loved chips and dips, but those too are no longer with me. I don't feel deprived. I feel healthy. I feel great. I am certainly not saying that everyone or anyone should do what I have done. Going Raw was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am not 100% nor at this point do I feel the need, but I love how I feel and the sleep I achieve and the heights I have reached. I am working on this next decade and not letting myths such as it is harder to lose weight as you get older-- I know plenty of people in their 50's and 60's who are doing a healthy journey and look fantastic. Report
Wow Nicole I literally just said this yesterday to my dad! I recently turned 29 as well and although I am thrilled with my weight loss I want more! I am in the best shape of my life but I would like to be in better shape. 4 years ago my back would give out on me every couple of months and that has not happened for almost 2 years!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us :) Report
I turn 65 this year, have 2 total knee replacements, had breast cancer surgery a year ago, and am probably "in the best shape of my life". Not the strongest, definitely not the firmest, but I feel better about myself than at any other point in my life. I get in an hour of cardio/day (swimming, walking, biking, dancing) and work on strength at the gym (silver sneakers gives us old biddies a free membership) 3 times/week. Last night I started a new 'piloxing' (cross between pilates and boxing) class and I was definitely the oldest participant - but I kept up with the extremely fit instructor better than some of the 30-somethings sweating along with me. Next on the agenda is the 3-day, 60 mile Walk for the Cure next month - not concerned about the walking, it's sleeping on the ground in those cute little pink tents that might be a problem. Report
Small note, Coach...when you turn thirty, you will have FINISHED your third decade--the year measures the end of the duration. (You turn one at the end of the first year, etc.) Facing 60 quite soon, that arithmetic has been on my mind.

I define fitness for myself in terms of what-I-can/can't-do-that-I-want/nee
d-to-do. By that rather flexible measure, I'm so-so fit these days. I've become very aware that it's much harder to regain or increase fitness now than it was when I was 29, and many days, that's discouraging. BUT on many other days, it's motivating...go figure! Report
Absolutely sign up for a fitness challenge and get ready to start training for that. I have been in great shape, lost 30+ lbs when I was 19 and didn't know how to keep myself motivated, by the time I was 27 I'd gained 100 lbs! I started to wonder if I was addicted to the challenge of losing weight. How ridiculous is that? Now I realize that what I need and what I should have done is challenged myself in other ways. Instead of saying "I want to be in the best shape of my life", Ill say "I want to learn to run 2 miles in 24 minutes, non stop. To me, goals now need to be about more than how I look. I'm surely not 19.. but what I do to my body is going to make it better than it was back then because Ill be working so much harder for it. Be proud of what you have accomplished and know the hardest challenge is maintenance and motivation. That's something to celebrate. Report
Interesting , because at age 44 (in one week!) I can look Back & say that I was in the best shape of my life at 28... & this was after I had my baby.
I had abs, I was toned & wearing size 4 pants. (I am 5 5)

At the time though, I still thought I was 'too fat' to wear shorts. I was dissatisfied!

So, I think I like being 44 in the 'almost best shape of my life ' a lot better ;-)
I will continue to push & grow, but as long as I can fit into my favorite jeans I will be happy with where I'm at. Report
I am a lot like you in always wanting the next thing, but time has mellowed me out a lot. I want to challenge myself, but am much more content with what I am now than I used to be. Probably the many years I have on you has made me that way. I think time has a way of doing that for us. Report
I have struggled with this myself. While proud of my accomplishments I never think that I am finished. But that is part of motivation. So my brain says I don't care if I am faster and I don't have interest in running a full marathon. At the same time...I do want to make my lifestyle interesting and stay healthy and strong because it has so many benefits other than looks. Keep it up! Report
This resonated so much with me. I often muse that even though I look at my current body and think about all the "little" things I could improve (more definition, more lines, more tone, less jiggle) I have to chuckle at how I would react if I was looking at the body I had 2 years ago. As my fitness improves, my standards for myself increase. Fitness is a never-ending journey, and that's a good thing, but I read your words and thought to myself "What would be enough for me to say that now I can just maintain?" I really don't know. I have a number for the scale that I want to see and I would love to stay there for a long time, and I have a shape for my midsection and legs that I'm working toward, too. When I get there, I think I'll be asking this "What next?" question right along with you! Report
My goals are to use my fitness to see new things that only fit healthy people can do. For example, I easily climbed Teotihuacan pyramid in Mexico this year. Then I hiked to 15,000 ft on a volcano. I'm planning a trip to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu. Not many 55 yr old women can claim that! I also would add mental fitness and healthy food to your goals. You can get away with eating junk at 29, but it will catch up with you sooner or later. Eating a clean diet has really helped me with my fitness goals! Still working on that darn sodium goal. It's a tough one, but I will be healthier and fitter when I get it under control. Report
If you stand still, you stagnate. I like to keep pushing to see where I'll end up in this big adventure of me.

(it's pretentious when I write it out, but, yeah, it's how I feel about life) Report
Your blog is both refreshing AND inspiring! Being healthy enough physically to enjoy your daily and sometimes "not so daily" activities in your life without stress, strain or exhaustion physically :) And to be proud that you accomplished what you set out to do is an amazing feeling! To find what challenges you physically and mentally and then strive for it I believe helps us to continue growing no matter if you are "maintaining" physically or not... Report
I just define fit as being at a healthy weight and being able to do basic exercises like running a mile and doing a handful of pushups with general ease. A fit person is able to enjoy testing their physical boundaries and does so for the challenge more so than healthy. I'm turning 30 in January; I doubt I'll be at my best by then but I should be pretty close. Report
Simply put, fitness is wholeness. As DaVinci might say, "mente sana e lo spirito in un corpo sano" (a sound mind and spirit in a sound body). Report
If you waited until 52 to get fit, you'd have different ideas. You sound very fit!! My idea of fit is to be able to do anything and everything I want to do. Now I don't have the same goals as you. I just want to run on the treadmill, during my whole work out. For 54 that would be fit to me. Report
Wow! I was a little saddened by your blog. You sound like you are in VERY good shape/fitness. You should celebrate that and be happy. It is always good to have goals and want to do "more" but if you are looking for "perfection" what is that? Be happy with what you have achieved and enjoy life. I am proud of you and you should be very proud of yourself too!!! Keep up the good work! Report
Congrats on beling healthy as you get to the big 2-9!! That should be celebrated! Some of us don't think about being healthy until much later. I think it is great that you want to be as fit as possible when you turn 30, but don't let that goal over take your life. One thing that I love is knowing I can participate with a race (weather a formal one or a race down the road with my son) whenever I want. That's pretty cool. I am not looking to win in my age group, but simply have fun and know that I can do it.

I have no advice for the fitness side of things, other than don't over do it to the point where you do not feel satisfied. On the mental side of things, focus on what you CAN do. You inspire millions of people and that is amazing! Thanks!

One thing I started is a photo album of pictures of me running with freinds and family members. It is neat to see those pictures. I would have never thought I would ever be a runner, and now I have something fun to do with so many people that I love. Just remembering those times reminds me I am on a lifelong journey.

Happy 29th Birthday!!! Report
I think the idea of "just maintaining" is a myth. NOBODY can maintain without always having to work at it. Even if you think you've got the perfect body and can run two marathons a month, you're always going to be training, working, PUSHING yourself. Nobody can do the same set of weights and reps forever and feel challenged, even if they want to "just maintain." As we age, as our bodies change, and as we get accustomed to a certain routine and level of fitness, we HAVE to push ourselves in order to keep our current levels of strength, endurance, and sanity.

Does this mean you have to keep going a step further, from Half Marathon to Marathon to Ultras? No. You don't have to undertake any of the more "famous" feats of fitness. You just have to do something you've never done before. Report
i feel exactly the same way... Now what?
Hey I turn 29 next week also!! While my level of fitness is not quite to your level of fitness, I also have goals leading up to my 30th and am plugging away at them (I complete the 60 day Insanity program on Monday which is a big feat for me!).

I think it's important to set reasonable goals for yourself ahead of time (say every birthday or every new year) and then celebrate your achievement and a sense of completion before you go on adding more stuff to your plate. If you're always tacking on more goals at the end of each success, then you'll always feel like you're playing catchup. Take the time to bask in the glow of the awesome things you are doing! Congratulations on how far you've come and know that if you stick with it, you've got a lot of years left to do a lot more great things! Happy Birthday! Report
There's been a few times where I have said I was in the best shape of my life, only to look back and wonder if I was crazy. when I look back at my wedding pics 5.5 years ago, I look positively huge and flabby - had a double chin and zero muscle definition. I also thought I was in the best shape of my life before having my son, but how "good" is someone who thought that running 35 miles per week before attempting a marathon was OK?

However, I was doing the best I could at the time with the knowledge I knowledge and education evolves of course. I think I can always be fitter. Just like I can always get stronger, faster. Report
I feel that "fitness" means excising and eating healthy and making it a permanant change! Then after you reach your initial goals, then you continue to exercise and workout! I don't think it means you have to be some marathon runner in order to achieve being in the best shape of your life! However, I do admire those who have ran in marathons and completed other fitness challenges. I'm just saying that beauty should be from within, but take care of your bodies on the outside because it's the only one you will ever have! Report
We are never done! Whether it's tweaking how we achieve our ultimate fitness, trying new foods to better fuel our body, or finding the next goal to conquer, it is a lifelong process -- a journey. At the beautiful, young age of 29, Nicole, you have so much ahead of you! Yes, today you are the most fit you have ever been. The year will bring about change for you -- and challenges -- and you will find ways to be the most fit at 30, 31, etc. Enjoy and savor the journey and always strive to be your best -- and love yourself for what you have accomplished thus far and who you are today! Report
I'm 67 and did not do any fitness activities before my retirement. So, I feel that I must continue to push, but my pushes have to be small. Gauging how much I can push myself is difficult. I am always trying things I know I can't continue. I'm looking for what I can continue and add to gradually. I walk a lot and use the fitness center 3x a week. Happy Birthday and best wishes! Report
I hope you can find the balance of being fit, happy with how you look and feel and love what you see and how you feel. Report
If you are happy and feel good - you are done. We, as a society, need to stop looking to "false idols" in movies, magazines, and television for our role models. Do not do anything because you think you should or because someone else is doing it - do it because YOU want to. Be you. Be happy. Report
As now I'm also in twenties and also in this age group, I finally found myself trying to get fit, trying to get closer to workouts instead of running away like I used to, for me, by the time I hit 30, I want to be very comfortable doing exercises in public or at least in front of family or relatives who either come to visit my house or when I stay at their houses. And by the time I hit 35, I want to stay fit and healthy, be a good example/inspiration to my circle of people I know - my own parents, relatives, friends and colleagues. So far, I think I'm still a beginner to fitness, most probably more fitter than when I was a teenager (dunno why I hate physical classes or running track, but I loved (and still do!) joining social sports where no need to worry how much help the team to score, just enjoyed myself). I'll consider myself fit for my age when doing exercises is as easy as I go into a bookstore and lose myself into the wonders of books! Report
Seriously, I can see where the "regular joe or jane" on the street may be stumped at the question of where to next, but certainly, a Sparkie should have a better answer! :-) Why? Because we know all about setting goals, reviewing schedules and changing what doesn't work! First, we want to just lose the weight and feel better about ourselves, then we discover our ambition (insert various hated cheerleaders' names in here, because that's what we secretly call that part of ourselves) and suddenly, we're reaching for things we never thought possible before: a 5 K, a faster 10K, climbing the Zugspitze, biking 100 miles, or just completing a regular pullup.

After a while, we succumb to the comments of those who didn't accompany us on our journey, but for some reason feel not only qualified but compelled to comment, anyway: why are we making such a fuss, we're in GREAT shape! Shouldn't this be enough for anyone? Thing is, the last thing we ought to take into consideration when trying to define new goals is what other people think we "should do" or "need to do". Because by now, not only can we look back on what it took to get here in the first place, we've also learned to listen to our body and its needs, and the status quo ain't it!

So why not go out and shake things up? Strive for more definition. Head for the next Warrior Dash. Coach a running group. Perfect your squat. Try BodyRock (I don't know why so few people do... it's a fab way to mix up your daily grind without sacrificing more time). Attend an outlandish sounding fitness class. Learn to dance. There are always more opportunities out there to bring joy to our bodies. It's not enough to dare to dream, we must dare to do! Report