Ninety-Five and Pumping Iron

I’m not referring to the temperature, but this man’s age.  I see Instapundit has linked to it – but I saw it on a video at my gym this afternoon, where they were running it nonstop.  As a middle-aged guy striving only partly successfully and mostly unsuccessfully to get in shape, lose weight, eat healthy, and all that, this was inspiring.

My gym, probably like a lot of gyms in upper middle class urban professional neighborhoods, has been trending to an older and older population.  In the daytime, especially, a fair number of elderly people doing post-stroke, post-heart attack recovery.  Intellectually and morally, I’m sure I admire them – walking with a cane around the track, sometimes accompanied by a nurse – especially as I’ll be that age soon enough.

But … I’m shallow.  I can’t help it.  I work out much harder, much stronger, and push myself much, much, much, much more when I’m not the youngest and fittest person in the gym.  I work out much, much, much, much, much harder when I’m surrounded by the young and nubile.  The rub, of course, is that the young and nubile also prefer to work out among the young and nubile, and not among the middle-aged like me.  The one thing I can say is I’m sure, 100% certain, Glenn Reynolds feels exactly the same way I do.

Update:  Glenn comments:  “Actually, at my gym, if you see a mother and teenage daughter working out together, the daughter is usually 10 or 15 pounds overweight, while the mother is usually really hot.”  My experience, too.  Apparently, however, the appearance of the word ‘nubile’ in this post has generated a certain amount of excitement.  Calmness.  When at the gym, I am like a couple of the commenters – I get completely inside myself, isolate myself in my Ipod, a little like physical meditation.  It is quite the opposite of a social experience.  That said, however, however ‘inside’ me I am while working out, I can also tell that at a certain level I’m not unaware of the median of those working out around me.  They are not inconsistent.

Anyway, it’s not really the young and nubile that most interest me here.  It’s the opposite phenomenon – the transformation of a gym, in particular kinds of socio-economic environments, into a sort of geriatric rehab center, at least during certain hours of the day – but all the while looking to market itself to aging boomers as something else, definitely not as elder-care, even though that is what it is.

That, and the always interesting phenomenon of the effect of the median – I respond to the median that is around me, and if it is much older and unhealthier, I respond in relation to that mean.  Likewise the other direction, however.  But this leads to a certain social, rational choice paradox:  what happens when everyone is seeking the median that gets the best out of themselves individually?  I gravitate to the young, healthy and, yes, nubile.  They, however, gravitate to still healthier and fitter medians that pull the best out of them, and if ‘gym resources’ are scarce, would prefer all things equal that I not pull down the median.  “Resources” here includes the psychological effects of the median that surrounds one, however – people are influenced simply by who is around them and how they perform, most notably on a team where that is part of the purpose, but also more generally, whether in gyms or classrooms or other social settings.

That is so if the underlying purpose is to extract maximum absolute individual performance, however – rather than instead maximizing performance relative to the group, in which case, you want many people like me to drag the median down.

One of the underlying assumptions here – well borne out in both everyday life in sports and formal behavioral economics – is that the group behavior and participation and sense of the group mean matter to how individuals respond.  The group send signaling behaviors about things like how hard to exert oneself.  Of course, this is also true of things like math and reading and schools, and lots of other things.

Update 2:  I also saw in the comments that someone mentioned Jack LaLanne – curious if anyone has a link to how he is doing.