- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

LONDON — It is the news that all sloths have been waiting for: Scientists in Germany are saying that too much exercise is bad for you and that doing less could lengthen your life.

In a new book called “The Joy of Laziness: How to Slow Down and Live Longer,” Peter Axt, a retired professor of health science at Fulda University near Frankfurt, and his daughter, general practitioner Michaela Axt-Gadermann, say that everybody has a limited amount of “life energy” and that the speed with which it is consumed determines a person’s life span.

They argue that high-energy activities, such as pounding the treadmill at the gym, accelerate the aging process and make the body more susceptible to illness.

“A more relaxed way of life is important for your health,” Dr. Axt-Gadermann said. “If you lead a stressful life and exercise excessively, your body produces hormones which lead to high blood pressure and can damage your heart and arteries.”

Dr. Axt-Gadermann said one key difference between the lazy and those who exercise was that the more active body produces more “free radicals” — unstable oxygen molecules that are thought to speed the aging process.

She added: “Laziness is also important for a healthy immune system, because special immune cells are stronger in times of relaxation than stress. During relaxation or ‘downtime,’ 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.”

Dr. Axt-Gadermann, 37, and her 65-year-old father, who are both reformed long-distance runners, also say laughing is healthier than running.

“When you laugh, your body produces the hormone serotonin, which makes you feel happy and relaxed,” Dr. Axt-Gadermann 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. Basically, laughing is a good training session without the negative side effects.”

The book also says laziness is good for the brain. It says that exercise and stress can cause the body to produce the hormone cortisol, which can damage cells in the brain and lead to memory loss and premature senility.

The medical establishment is skeptical about the book.

Vivienne Nathanson, the head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, said moderate exercise should not be set aside in favor of lazing around.

“It is a very tempting theory, as, so often, many of us feel that we cannot be bothered with exercise,” she said.

“However, I would not agree that people have a set amount of expendable energy during a lifetime and that exercise is bad for you. In fact, done sensibly, exercise lowers the blood pressure, improves your metabolic state and can improve health and contribute to a longer life.”

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