I know it's an old joke, but this conversation actually happened to me years ago at Rocky Mountain National Park. Amy and I were visiting the park with our friend Zach. And we always end up doing stupid stuff when we're with Zach - but it's always really fun. We happened to be up at the park during Elk rutting season. We got pretty close and I started to get uncomfortable and suggested that maybe we back up a little. Amy said, it's ok, we're faster than them, and pointed to the out-of-state tourists.
We often compare ourselves with what's out there - it's human nature. An as long as we're "beating the average" we often feel good about that. But with health, the average is so bad, you need to do so much better.
We were at our doc for the boys' yearly checkup. (disclaimer: I'm really biased and I hate doctors and hospitals and the whole medical system, so I try to avoid it as much as possible) And even with our really great doc who's outside of the Obamacare system, we still just were going through the checklists to make sure the kids were doing "what they're supposed" to be doing at their age.
It annoyed me, I know they're healthy, I know they eat well, and they're so crazy there's no way they'd ever be considered inactive. But we just kept going through the checklists, putting their numbers on the charts and comparing them to the rest of the unhealthy sugar-eating population (which, by the way, makes them look underweight!).
What annoyed me is that there was no real absolute metric that they were looking at. It was just comparison with "the norms". I guess it makes sense, there's no real way to define health - at least when you're in the health care system. Health care isn't really about wellness, it's about treating disease.
That got me thinking about health in general. When you look at the state of health and fitness in the country, it's easy to think that you're doing well just because you're doing better than average. But when the average is so weak and sick, it's not a good comparison. Last week I had to hire some movers to get a big piece of furniture delivered. I like to think that relative to the population, heck even relative to the average gym-going population, I'm pretty strong. But these guys who actually do real work for a living were so much stronger than me.
It's easy to see how regression to the mean can hurt a population. Once we make it acceptable to be weak, then everyone becomes weak because there's no comparison to strong folks. Let's stop worrying about if we're beating the average - let's just try to get stronger and healthier than we are today and keep progressing.