Could laziness really be the key to a longer life?

by ANDY DOLAN, Daily Mail

Last updated at 10:40 10 January 2005

It will come as welcome relief to Jim Royles everywhere.

A new book claims the key to a long and happy life is not healthy eating and plenty of exercise - but laziness.

The authors, a retired professor and his GP daughter, argue that every one of us has a limited amount of "life energy" and the speed at which it is used up has a direct bearing on how long we live.

High-energy activities such as running and workouts in the gym use up this energy, they say, accelerating the ageing process and making the body more susceptible to illness.

Healthy immune system

Those who prefer to lead the couch potato lifestyle beloved of the Royle Family's patriarch produce fewer "free radicals" in their body - the unstable oxygen molecules which are believed to contribute to ageing.

Dr Michaela Axt-Gadermann, a German, said: "Laziness is important for a healthy immune system because special immune cells are stronger in times of relaxation than stress. During relaxation, or "down time", your metabolism is less active, which means the body produces fewer free radicals.

"If you do a lot of sport or are permanently stressed, then your body will produce more free radicals and that is one reason why your life could be shortened."

She said a stressful lifestyle combined with excessive exercise causes hormones to be produced which lead to high blood pressure and possible damage to the heart and arteries.

The 37-year-old doctor - who like her father, former Fulda University professor of health science Dr Peter Axt, is a former longdistance runner - said laughing was a healthier activity than jogging.

"When you laugh, your body produces the hormone serotonin which makes you feel happy and relaxed," she said.

"The heartbeat races and blood pressure is raised for a short while, without activating your metabolism and producing the free radicals which spend your life energy."

Good for the brain

In The Joy of Laziness - subtitled How To Slow Down And Live Longer - the authors also argue that laziness is good for the brain. They say exercise and stress can cause the body to produce the hormone cortisol, which can damage brain cells and lead to premature senility.

However, for those who wish to lead a life like that of Jim Royle, the bone idle father played by Ricky Tomlinson in the BBC comedy The Royle Family, Dr Axt- Gadermann warned that laziness on its own is not enough to guarantee a longer life.

She recommended gentle walking combined with a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates as the best formula for keeping in shape.

"We try to put our own ideas into practice but this does not mean that we do nothing all day,' Dr Axt-Gadermann said.

"Laziness should not be taken to the extreme and work is an important part of life, but recreation and relaxation should not be underestimated."

But Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association disagreed with the idea that exercise is bad for you.

"Done sensibly, exercise lowers the blood pressure, improves your metabolic state and can improve health and contribute to a longer life," she said.

A spokesman for the Keep Fit Association, which promotes fitness through exercise and dance, said: "If you neglect exercising and laze around too much, you will not be doing much for your mind or body."