Is loafing good for you, after all?
A new book claims that laziness is the key to a lengthy and happy life.
But not everyone is convinced, says Ian Sample.
As gyms swell with the optimism of countless new year resolutions, a message arrives from Germany that will doubtless bring cheer to sloths everywhere. What is the key to a long and healthy life? Laziness.
Put forward in the book, ‘The Joy of Laziness — How to Slow Down and Live Longer (Bloomsbury)’, the message has raised eyebrows among experts studying the science of ageing. At best, they say, the book is a muddled collection of grains of truth that oversimplify
what scientists understand about the complex process of ageing. At worst it is dangerous, giving those already living life in the bus lane a handy justification to do little to keep themselves healthy. ‘The Joy of Laziness’ has been written by a German father and daughter team. Peter Axt, say the publishers, is a former health sciences expert at Fulda University near Frankfurt, and Michaela Axt-Gadermann, is a practising dermatologist. The book begins with an explanation that we are all born with a limited amount of “life energy’’. If we use it all up quickly — by exercising and getting stressed out — we will die early. If we do very little and live life at a snail’s pace, we can eke it out and live much longer.
It’s a theory that doesn’t find much support in the scientific community. “The idea’s been around nearly 100 years and we know that it’s wrong,’’ says Tom Kirkwood, co-director of the Institute of Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, England.
The authors illustrate their ideas on “life energy’’ by looking at how much longer wild animals live if kept in captivity. “While wild animals cover many miles daily in search of food, and consequently are under a great deal of stress, zoo animals lead a very restful and relaxed life,’’ they write, before citing how lions in the Serengeti live only eight years, but can live to the age of 20 in a zoo.
Arctic polar bears may last only 20 years in the wild, but 40 in captivity. “Laziness and downtime is important for your health. It is well known that lazy animals have the longest life expectancy,’’ says Dr Axt-Gadermann who adds that priests, nuns, monks and artists also have long lives.
The book goes on to warn against the dangers of too much exercise. Physical exertion increases the production of free radicals — an extremely reactive form of oxygen — that damage our bodies and so speed up ageing. Having warned of the dangers of doing too much exercise, the book outlines how staying calm is essential for a longer life.