Don't feel guilty if you're not running a marathon (or any other gruelling event this winter). Science proves that sometimes it's best to be lazy, or at least inactive.
If you're watching healthy activity from the sidelines (or from your local beer garden), it can all be a bit disturbing. After all, if it looks like the world has put its trainers on, so one question that may spring to mind is: Why haven't you?
Fear not. We're here to tell you that laziness can be just as healthy an option as all that sweaty effort. Being idle is an underrated boon for both body and mind. Read on and we'll tell you why.
Not exercising is just as important as exercising
Don't get us wrong, you do need to take some exercise to be healthy. But too often the weekend warriors among us overdo it. According to the experts, not exercising is just as important as exercising when it comes to a healthy body.
That's because exercise creates tiny tears in muscle that need to be repaired. If you lift heavy weights one day, you may need to take the next day off to allow arm muscles the time to heal. John Brewer, an expert in sports science at the University of Bedfordshire, says that most injuries come from not giving yourself enough downtime. Resting up, which might seem like being lazy, is just as important as working out.
High-endurance activities can permanently damage the heart
And if you're training for a marathon, you need to be doubly careful. According to a study by researchers at the University of Melbourne, published last year, running marathons and doing other high-endurance activities can permanently damage the heart.
"Our study identifies the right ventricle as being most susceptible to exercise-induced injury and suggests that the right ventricle should be a focus of attention as we try to determine the clinical significance of these results," said lead researcher Dr Andre La Gerche.
"Affected athletes may be at risk of reduced performance a cardiac 'over-training' syndrome or it may cause arrhythmia (erratic heartbeats)."
The researchers didn't suggest that marathon runners stop, but they did say that athletes needed to adopt sensible training regimes that factored in plenty of time for rest and recovery.
Meditation: the ultimate do nothing
You could say that meditation is the ultimate form of laziness. After all, sitting on a cushion and clearing your mind of all thoughts and distractions is as near to doing absolutely nothing as conscious humans ever get.
And it's also really, really good for you. Recent studies have shown that meditation can lead to better cognitive performance, a lower risk of sudden death and reduced symptoms of ADHD and Alzheimer's disease. It's also been reported to lower blood pressure, aid sleep and reduce pain.
So go on: sit down, clear your mind and do absolutely nothing for 20 minutes. You'll probably feel a whole lot better for it.
Relaxation is crucial to overall health
Even if you can't bring yourself to meditate properly relaxation is still vital for health and well-being. According to the famous Mayo Clinic in the States, relaxation's benefits include increased blood flow to muscles, reduced tension and pain, reduced anger and frustration, increased concentration and boosted confidence.
But you need to be properly relaxed to make the most of it, which means doing pretty much nothing, or at least nothing you don't want to do. That might be tricky to start with, but Mayo experts say: "as with any skill, your ability to relax improves with practice."
So take time for yourself, in your lunch hour or after work, to wander aimlessly, stare at the clouds, read a good book or sit and people watch. You're not being lazy, you're being healthy.
Short, sharp exercise is best
And on top of all this is the latest research in exercise science. What it increasingly suggests is that very short, sharp bursts of exercise can give you many of the same benefits as running 10k races or even marathons.
For example, a study by University of Bath scientists published in December found that just a minute of exercise a day can be a boon for your health. The scientists asked volunteers to perform two short cycle sprints on exercise bikes three times a week, and found that after just six weeks the participants showed, on average, a 28% improvement in their insulin function. The better your insulin function, the lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
And a study published last year by McMaster University in Canada found that 10-minute bursts of intense exercise on an exercise bike, repeated three times a week, were as good for building fitness and muscle power as 10 hours of moderate cycling over a two-week period.
In other words, if you're prepared to exercise vigorously you might only need to work out for less than an hour a week. Which leaves lots of time to be happily, gloriously lazy.
OK, nobody is suggesting that slobbing on the sofa all day with your snout in a bucket of chicken is good for you. But what all this research does say is that the old mantra of 'no pain no gain' isn't always or perhaps often right. For your physical and mental health, quite often doing nothing, or as near to nothing as you can get, is the best workout of all.
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