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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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My definition is good lab numbers, walking every day, eating healthy, and no meds. I'm 70. Report
1CRAZYDOG 4/8/2020
At my age, being functionally independent is my definition of being fit! Report
PIZZA5152 3/5/2020
Thanks good article Report
NENEBFIT 3/3/2020
Happy Birthday! Definitely agree that being fit is different for each of us. I hope you can look at your beautiful, sculpted body and know that you are there. Take time to enjoy the beauty of spring and go on hikes and have picnics and pick flowers. You’ve done AMAZING! Report
the older I get, the more determined I am to stay active. I turned 60 last month Report
Great article Report
Being 64, turning 65 this month, my definition of fitness revolves around functionality. I am independent, and am doing whatever it takes to remain independent. That's what my definition of fitness is . . . being independent in my activities of daily living, and making sure I'm on the priority list to keep on doing what it takes to stay fit, healthy, functional. Report
some very good thought provoking questions. This was well written. Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
thank you - Report
Honestly, Coach Nicole is the best! Thanks for showing us that even the most “fit” folks may not want to exercise more. Or can not!

Define your own successes! Report
Interesting article. Report
This is a great article....................Thank You. Report
That's a really good question!

I also got a little soft and out of shape in my mid-late 20s, though not truly overweight (just "cosmetic overweight.") I too pulled myself together by about age 28-29, and maintained a high level of fitness throughout my 30s, peaking at about age 38. Even then, however, I still believed I could achieve more; I just didn't do anything about it.

Fast forward 16 years. After nearly a decade and 1/2 of becoming unfit and obese, I decided to try to reverse course. At first, I just wanted to get slender and regain the fitness level I had enjoyed then, but now that I am within 20 lbs. of my goal, I DO want to see if I can push myself even further.

So how would I define fitness? Being at my ideal weight, having noticeable, toned muscles, being physically very strong, and having a lot of energy. Those are rather vague descriptions, but I'll know it when I get there. Report
Great information. Report
Since I'm more than halfway through my 7th decade, just being able to move and do things without pain is fitness. Report
I loved this blog post because it is so relevant to me. I am entering middle age and starting to see the effects-- I have a couple of injuries that have kept me from running for the first time since 1997. I keep reminding myself that I have "arrived"-- I am fit and healthy and can do just about everything I want to do, and wear whatever I want to wear. I am less active than I was 10 years ago, when I could bike 145 miles in one day, run 27-mile trail races and do half-Ironmans. Now I rarely bike more than 2 hours at a time, and, until I was injured, I was satisfied running about 45 minutes at a time. I made a conscious decision to scale back my physical activity because I felt that life was too skewed towards physical fitness. I was missing out on other things. I was miserable at the finish line, instead of being elated.

This weekend I worked with two 20-somethings who were training for a marathon. They came back from their 20-mile run, and I was really envious of their ability, and I felt momentarily like a slacker. I had to remember to let myself BE, just as I am, instead of comparing myself to others. I do love the company of other athletes; it keeps me motivated and inspired. I love to see people who are older than I am who are really fit. They give me something to aspire to. Jack LaLanne was amazing!

I think the litmus test is, do you love what you are doing? If not, why are you doing it? Report
I arrived at that "enough" Nicole mentioned in her last paragraph. Every once in a while I check in on my own life's Q3 & Q4 goals: "Flexible enough; agile enough; positive; quick enough; funny; strong enough; fit enough; loving & caring; effective; tiny & lighter than air". I have them posted in my work space & in my wallet. "Enough" for the life I want to live. Enuf. Report
That is such a good question and I don't know if I can answer it. Everyone has their own vision of what they want to become, how they want to look, what they want to be able to achieve. I often ask myself the question of how far do I have to go to be happy? And I think that question is what is keeping me from moving forward and actually making any progress b/c I don't know where my end point is or where I actually want to go, and not knowing where I want to go makes it hard to start out on the journey... Life... it's so full of questions!!

Happy birthday!! Report
Happy Birthday Coach! I gave your questions a little thought and frankly fitness means so many things to so many people. Only you hold the key to your desires. Maybe some meditation time or browsing google images will help you get to where you want to be. How about a vacation bike tour to Europe! I know I would love that. ***H A P P Y B I R T H D A Y*** Report
I define myself by how good I feel....I don't need a scale to tell me to be happy or sad just by viewing a number. It's amazing how quickly the body changes and adapts through exercise--sometimes it takes weeks and months to notice anything on the scale--but your body? It's defined more, you're stronger and suddenly pants are loser! Always challenge yourself and keep moving--have an overall larger goal but break it down into smaller pieces so you're not discouraged by a large number. Being fit is a great achievement in itself. To look back at where you where before you started your journey --that's success! And the hardest part is maintaining your weight and level of fitness. So even if you feel you're not moving fwd fast enough, focus on not falling behind again. Report
Hi Nicole, I can completely relate since I have the same type of personality. My goal is to have the courage to get on stage and and compete in figure. Have you ever thought about doing anything like this? Competitions will always keep you striving and be very fulfilling! Report
Happy birthday Nicole. Your blog is very inspiring. Keep up the good work!!!! Report
I think you hit on the answer EXACTLY in your last paragraph. You are a stunningly beautiful fit woman. With age will come acceptance and confidence in who you are and what you can do. And yes, that means relaxing and enjoying the ride. I predict that this will be the gift of your 30s! And I'm envious -- I didn't get my act together until my 40s! Look how much further ahead you are!

-LL Report
Well, from being in my sixth decade (Really? That's what it is at 53?) I've learned that being a perfectionist robs life of a lot of enjoyment. I think you look fabulous, you're healthy, beautiful and seem to be happy - you're also not eager to change your routine in search of this undefined ideal... Strive to be your best but don't go overboard - time, and the inevitable changes that come with it, has a way of challenging our best intentions. Best wishes on your 29th birthday - you are lovely - go have fun! Report
Happy Birthday, Nicole!
Love this thought:
"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."
This doesn't mean you will sit on your "assets", because we all know you won't, but being grateful where you are, what you have achieved, and open to growing in whatever way you desire without any pressure. We all should learn to RELAX (not giving up) but stop being our own worst critic or judge, and enjoy the ride.
As far as we know, it's all we've got. . . Report
Happy birthday Nicole. Your blog is inspiring and refreshjing, keep up the good work. If you think you should raise your fitness to the next level and that would make you proud at thirty, as long as you have the stamina and endurance to do it then that is what you should do. As long as you are fit and healthy please yourself.

I am 64 years old and was not a fitness enthusias but I realise that I was putting on weight as I grew older, I should not say that because for the past fifteen years I walk 5 mile six days a week but other exercises i never did.

Now that I am exercising I have started to loose weight.

Keep doing your exercises and have a blessed and happy birthday. Report
For me, "fitness" is being able to do what I want to do with my life. For example, I recently was able to enjoy a trip to a State Park, where I was able to enjoy hiking with a friend. We hiked for nearly two hours and at the end of our time out, we had to climb stairs to get off the path and onto the road. Not only did I make it up the stairs at a decent speed and without stopping, I recovered quickly. For me, this is fitness and I am happy to be able to do those things.

I am not sure about maintenance. I have been taught, and I believe, that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backward; there is no standing still. For you, I wonder if your next level of fitness needs to be more toward the mental/emotional side, where you can accept yourself at the level where you are and enjoy your life as it is. Why do you want to be more fit than you ever have been in your life? What is it that you really want from that goal? Once you know that, I think you can move forward in that area of your life without sacrificing your physical prowess. Report
At 26, I am less physically fit than I was at 24 by weight lifting, % body fat, endurance, etc. standards, but when you take into account that I was pregnant, had an emergency c-section that left me unable to do any form of abdominal exercise for over six months, and was able to exclusively breast feed my son for his full first year, I think it's understandable.

I still feel I am in the "best shape of my life" because I am in the best shape that my life allows right now. I go to the gym 4-6 days a week, I chase an active toddler around the house, I make a point to play with him outside going on bike rides, trips to the park, playing on swings, I cook more healthy meals at home so I can set a good example. All of those things put me in a far better place now, even if I don't have six pack abs any more. Report
I think you need to change your goal. EVERY year you should aim to be in the best place possible in both physical and mental fitness in your life. That way, you are continually aiming to improve yourself every year as opposed to being at your best when you are thirty and then going down hill from there. Report
Happy Birthday, Nicole! Your latest profile pic is awesome. Red becomes you!

As for fitness, as others have mentioned...being in the best physical shape of your life is indeed an achievement. And you can run farther and faster, lift more, and be admired by many. Look at the difference of where you are to where you were when you were 19, or 25! You have successfully pushed the envelope. Look also at what you have achieved professionally. Kudos to you my friend. Last but certainly not least, it is important that your fitness goal be all inclusive which means assuring your mental accuity is at peak performance too.

Eventually the body will tell the tale of years and its important that mentally you have brought a 'fit' you to your future. You will be able to maintain both if you keep a consistent effort going. Best wishes for your ultimate success. As for me, I see a young woman of achievement. Enjoy it! Report
Being in the best shape of your life is an ongoing process. I thought that would happen in my 30s or 40s, but I was in even better shape when I turned 50. No my body wasn't necessarily more beautiful because age does begin to have effects, but I was healthier, stronger, a faster cyclist, etc. I knew the events I've been engaged in for the past 4 years (I'm 54 now) were easier now than when I was younger - like cycling a Century (100 miles). When I was 52 I did two Century rides within a week, passing plenty of men and women who were much younger than me.

A goal of being in the "best shape of your life" is an elusive goal - you can always strive for more. A better goal would be "being fit enough to enjoy what you want to do". That's a goal that can be achieved. Of course, it means setting the bar high enough to make life interesting!! Report
Do what is in your HEART to do.
Life is not perfected by the words and admonitions of other people, but by listening and following one's heart. DEEP BREATH and listen.
On the other hand, anxiety and striving are a recipe for failure. Even the stress of worrying and wondering is counter-productive to health.
A wise friend told me this:
You already KNOW in your HEART what is right and true for you. Report
I define fit as being healthy with regular exercise, yes, and also having some extra fitness goals to push you a little harder. But, your mind also needs to be "fit". Giving yourself some time to enjoy what is going on around you. Downtime can help you release some of those stress levels in your life. Enjoy a crossword puzzle, sudoku, or read a book. Time for daily devotionals.

While being fit in body is a very good goal, don't forget the whole package. Report
Good point, however, I feel that maintaining your level you are at is a goal in itself? Its definitely a day to day ongoing process...its a good thing we enjoy it! :D Report
I think its like the elusive goal you should always be yearning to get (like the math / electronics term "asymptotic") you can get close but near achieve the ideal; therefore you always are trying rather than stopping and resting on your laurels which would be a terrible mistake. Report
I think that if you give yourself some time to relax, chill out, plateau, maintain, whatever, then when your body and your mind are both ready, something will crop up, something new will present itself.
You need to give both your mind and your body a chance to have their say!
So maybe it should be time to ignore your inner devil telling you that you need to do more exercise, more time, higher achievement - and let everything else catch up and stabilise. Report
Very thoughtful blog, Coach Nicole, you bring up some interesting points.

I just turned 30 earlier this year and I AM the fitest/healthiest I've ever been. So, I don't have much advice for you, but I can relate. Since I've been in maintainance mode, I've struggled with staying motivated to continue the healthy lifestyle I'm enjoying (yes, I enjoy it, but I also enjoy sweet treats and eating yummy comfort food when w/friends and family - but I LOVE being active more than laying around, so exercsie isn't an issue). I just ran my first 5K, and while proud of my time (about 29 minutes), I have no desire to run longer distances.
So, here I am, just hanging out at this "level" of fitness everyday - no set goals for the future, other than to keep my weight in the healthy BMI range and avoid over-eating when I can resist it.
The only thing I can say is, I think you're right in trying to find a way to find balance and really enjoy where you're at. We're all going to age and eventually our bodies will give out in some way or other and we'll long for these younger/active years. I'm also a devout Christian, and I think it's important to remember that the things of this world (i.e. our bodies) are temporary and everything will pass away eventually, so becoming so focused/obsessed with stuff down here will not help us in the long run. Report
I think many of us have struggled with "best shape of our lives" or "most fit of our lives". I know I have and I'm certainly no where near there.

I think you should talk to your doctor. Together the two of you can set some reasonable goals for you. As you get older some goals are less easy to attain let alone maintain. Also realize that you and your husband may decide to start a family in which case the goals you set for today may fly out the window. So, yes, set new goals and yes, make them challenging, but make sure that they are good for your physical body as well as your mental body.

29!! a Spring Chicken! I'm going to be Work In Progress until they toss me out of the gym because I can't change my own diaper. Then I will have to find a new gym.

Never give up. Report
Boy, 29, that was many years ago for me. I was in what I like to say perfect shape, achieved mostly through many hours of yoga. I loved it then, and I still do. I also used to run, everyday. My weight, then was 100 lbs. Now, 35 yrs. later, I would feel much better to be thinner, with good muscle tone. I go to water aerobics, and ride my bike..a bit of yoga, as well. Report
I was in graduate school when I was 29. Between studying and paying the bills, I worked most of the time. A fair amount of walking was required in my university town, so I got some exercise just going through my daily routine, but I wouldn't say I was in the best shape of my life. Over the next decade, I finished school, got a full-time professional job, moved a couple of times, got married, and had two kids. My family and other commitments began taking up my time (and haven't stopped yet), and my body isn't what it used to be before children.

If I were in your shoes, and had it to do over again, I think I would want to enjoy being active in many different ways, just for the fun of it. I would hike and climb mountains, maybe learn to ski, take up skating and tennis, ride horseback, and enjoy the freedom to try out just about anything. I think I would also participate in a lot more charity fund-raising events. Report
3 1/2 years ago, at age 54 I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be dead in a year. Period. No one said that to me. I just knew. I would be having a heart attack and dropping dead within 12 months. I weighed 250 pounds at 5'6". I was always out of breath. My kneew crackled. My ankle hurt. I had so abused my body I KNEW! that there was no repairing the damages I had inflicted.

I went to Weight Watchers, wholly against my will, and started their program. News flash to all thinking about joing WW Online: it's nearly identical to the Spark and The Spark is free to you. I'm just sayin' is all.

I lost 90 pounds! I started to run 5ks, 10ks, started swimming and biking. I am now 58 years old. This spring I ran a Duathlon and a Triathlon, a Half Marathon. I am training for two fall marathons. In recent weeks I have run a 20 miler, three 5k, long runs of 12, 12, and 13 miles.

I can do 100 push-up (not all one set mind you, I am not totally crazy) where I could not do three before. Pull-ups are still a problem ... cannot get past four.

And I like what I see in the mirror when I am naked. Not like I used to say to myself "Yeah you're a little over weight, but you carry it well." ( NewTim to OldTim: No you didn't.)

Best shape of my life? You betcha. I have 14 June 2053 circled on my calendar. That is the Saturday after I begin my 11th decade. I will be entering a 5k that weekend.

This from the guy who KNEW he would be dead before he reached his 56th birthday. Report
Why must I always be the one to rain on people's parades and splash cold hard facts in their faces?

Nicole, honey, child, young lady, you will be entering your FOURTH decade on your 30th birthday. Birth to 10th, 10 to 20th, 20 to 30th.


Now don't you feel REALLY OLD?

PS Happy Birthday. Report
Happy Birthday Nicole.
I am trying to get into the best shape of my life as well.
and i am still trying to push myself each day. Report
Where to go next? How do I get better conditioned from being in the best condition of my life? Do I need to do a marathon or Iron Man in order to reach a point where I feel good and feel confidant in my body?

In the area of fitness, these are fairly typical questions that a strong Type A personality would ask.

They are also fairly typical of people who have Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Those commonly diagnosed with this include bulemics and those afflicted with anorexia. Those who are morbidly overweight are also found to have this disorder and have convinced themselves since they couldn't be perfect or reach an imagined ideal, they might as well do what makes them feel better and eat.

Are any of us who follow an exercise regimen free from some of the affects of Body Dysmorphia? I can't say, with any degree of certainty.

I do know (from personal experience) that strong type A personalities can become obsessed with not only being the best they can be, but being better than anyone else, period.

Next week is my 65th birthday, and because of injuries earlier in my life - from which I recovered, I can no longer push to be a Jack LaLanne (a historical reference, I'm sure). The helicopter crash that broke my back in two places (but healed without any disability) now has produced three disintegrated discs. If I jog more than two steps, it feels like I have bone grating on bone (woops, I DO have bone grating on bone). The long term affects of other injuries are also limiting what I can do - so what is this life-long type A doing to accept what his body can no longer do?

Keeping myself in the best shape I can be in - not what I want to be, hey, I know I can no longer strive to be a point guard for the Lakers. I've become more realistic. I am spending more time in meditation. This may sound like a conundrum, but I'm focusing on becoming less of a Type A on the outside by becoming a spiritual Type A.

There is a balance for each of us at every age.

My daughter would have been just a few years older than you (young 30's). If she had accomplished what you have done at your age, I'd be one proud Dad.

You are very helpful to hundreds of thousands of people who love what you do for us. I see absolutely nothing wrong with the shape you are in at all - you are a very attractive young lady who is a beacon of hope. The personality we see is a peron who is smart and funny.

Young Lady, you are very high on the list of persons the women on this site wished they were. As for the old guys, well, you're a girl and we have to stay on our toes just to come close to the levels you have achieved.

Chill a bit.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Lakers came to you to be their starting Point Guard. Report
Happy 29th, Nicole!

I agree with those who suggest a balance. I think fitness is an individual thing. I am twice your age and with knee and back problems, I would not set a goal of distance running or extreme sports. I am currently frustrated because I am having trouble increasing 4-block brisk walks to 6; the pain is overwhelming. But I *can* increase reps with dumbbells or hold yoga stretches longer and I am adding new exercises to increase my mobility. I also hope you can savor your milestones along the way. I have to set goals that are realistic for me. I think maintenance is fine, if that's what the individual wants. It doesn't have to mean stagnation; one can vary one's routines and activities but not be pursuing some lofty or extreme goal. I don't think it is very healthy when pursuing physical fitness turns in to an obsession or compulsion. If you want to pursue extreme fitness or actviities mentioned in the comments, fine. But keep in mind you probably don't want to neglect your husband and other loved ones, your social life, intellectual stimulation, and so on. We are more than just bodies.

I am very grateful for your videos where you show or tell us how we can modifiy the exercises or routines when we are not capable of imitating your moves exactly!! I am also grateful for the Chair Exercise Team on SP.
I look at being "fit" as more a function of the event I am working toward. If I am working toward an ocean swim, my time is spent more in the pool then on my bike in order to get fit or ready for the swim. Conversly, if I am training for a century ride, my time is spent less running and more on the bike. The time I use to get or maintain fit is fairly constant, its just a function of the upcoming goal that determines what I am fit for. When I am not working toward a specific goal my excercise routine will change but I don't believe I become anyless overall fit because of the break. Ebbs and flows in training occur naturally throughout the course of the year and are in fact healthy.