Chasing Thirty: Get In The Best Shape Ever

Andrea is on a quest to check off a bucket list of items in her 29th year. You can read more about her adventures at her blog, Thirty-Things.

Local fitness guru Clay Runnels, who trained me as a teenage tennis player (and still works with my uber-fit mom) asked me recently if I had any fitness goals on my list of things to do before I turn thirty. You betcha there is, Clay. There’s one simple one: get in the best shape ever.

There are two times in my adult life that I have been in really good shape. Right in the beginning of my twenties when I was playing college tennis and right in the middle of my twenties when I got into boxing. The latter happened because I went to the gym one day in a really bad mood and I saw a guy wailing on the heavy bag and thought that it looked way more cathartic than the elliptical machine. I was right about that: it not only got me into amazingly good shape but made me feel safer in my own body by teaching me how to throw a punch.
I have always exercised regularly. I’m not trying to be smug when I say that I don’t really understand how people can not exercise. It keeps me sane. If I take more than a couple of days off I feel all kinds of imbalanced and icky.

There is a moment from my college days that always comes back to me when I think of the joy of exercise. I was fighting hard to get back in my tennis team’s lineup following a semester abroad so I was training at night by myself, jumping rope and running lines on the courts after dark. I remember being out there under the moon and feeling like it was something close to a spiritual experience to be working with one’s body that way, re-tooling it to be faster and more powerful.

But to put the work in to get not just fit but crazy, superhero, I can do any activity for any length of time fit, I have to have a reason. I have to have a sport. As I’ve written about here, I’ve become mildly obsessed with salsa dancing and on my coming-up-way-too-fast 2012 list of things to do is to start performing. Now. Any of you who watch Dancing with the Stars know what that means. Strenuous dance practices with unforgiving men in very tight pants! Miniscule, sparkly outfits! So, readers, welcome to my reason.

But it’s more than just performing. The thing that scares me most about aging in the long term isn’t losing my looks, it’s losing my ability to do the things I want to do. And the best way to ensure that happens as slowly as possible is to put in the hard work now. My mother is about to turn sixty next month and she’s in great shape, which she’s earned by putting the work in over decades. It’s certainly not going to get any easier.

As I’ve written about before, I’ve struggled with body image issues since I was a teenager. Being an athlete was the only thing that saved me back then and going forward it’s the key to maintaining psychological and emotional peace with my body. I feel best about the way I look when my body telegraphs strength.

Another factor to getting in optimum shape is, of course, a fuel source. This one is a minefield for me; I have nothing but bad associations with the word “diet.” To get some sensible advice, I went to see my health club’s nutritionist who helped me put together a plan that will get me where I want to go but still allows for bread, pasta, the occasional cookie and most importantly: wine. A way of eating that I can maintain for the rest of my life. Let’s call it a fuel source adjustment.

Along with the work I’m doing on my body, I’m also working on my mind. I want to disentangle food and exercise from all the baggage and self-loathing of my younger days. Thirty, I’ve decided, is too old to be dragging around all my old hang-ups like a ball and chain, to fear the scale, to let weight determine worth. It’s time to put the past to rest. And that is perhaps the most ambitious goal of all.

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