It's Time to Take It Easy; Good News - Laziness May Be the Key to Living Longer

Article excerpt

Byline: From ALLAN HALL in BERLIN

THE American gurus who expounded jogging, gymnastics and hugely- exasperating exercises to work off cellulite and lead us all into a happy, healthy life have got it all wrong.

Says who? Perhaps a man who deserves more attention than most, given that he comes from a nation which never met an idle moment it didn't hate.

Peter Axt is a German, a nation which regards relaxation as a pursuit for wimps. Now the Teutonic view is being challenged by one of their own, a man who suggests that health and happiness can really only come through the relentless adherence to laziness.

Dr Axt, a former marathon runner and university lecturer, has written a book that goes solidly against the grain of his countrymen: those toilers of the economic miracle who have made Germany the world's third largest economy by sheer hard work.

The Fulda University professor, who has written On The Joy Of Laziness with his physician daughter Michaela, insists he's no anarchist trying to bring down the social order - he just wants to see a change in lifestyles when people aren't working.

He prescribes aimless sloth as the antidote to professional stress and the secret to a happier old age, stating: "People who would rather laze in a hammock instead of running a marathon or who take a midday nap instead of playing squash have a better chance of living into old age.''

What a relief from the usual demands that we squeeze aerobics into our already- packed days.

Every year, it seems there is a new 'fad' book promising the elixir of life. A decade ago, it was a French physician who got rich quick advocating an unlikely diet of cheese, chocolate, cream, sauces and fatty meat - all to be eaten in strict rotation.

Dr Axt is not quite selling such snake oil - in fact, after leafing through the tome, it's hard to discern what he's selling at all, given that, for all the talk of idleness in off-time, he still advocates moderate exercise such as walking - at least if taken at leisure and not snatched hectically from the working day - and the avoidance of overeating .

The book explains: "Not overdoing it is what this is about. Research shows that people who run long distances into their 50s are using up energy they need for other purposes.

"They suffer memory loss. They risk premature senility.''

The fact that other countries - Denmark, for one - have come up with surveys suggesting otherwise is not mentioned.

Dr Axt also slams early rising - getting up too soon leaves people stressed for the whole the day, he claims.

And keeping down stress is vital to good health, especially at work, he adds. His prescription? "Waste half your free time. Just enjoy lazing around.''

In a section devoted to athletes, there is a bewildering array of statistics: that no top sportsman or woman has ever lived to a very advanced age; that they often suffer from weak joints, arthritis, pains and worse. Many die young.

The counterbalance to such generalisms, of course, would be that many people don't want to lounge around becoming the size of Zeppelin and that quality of life rather than quantity should, perhaps, be the goal.

Dr Axt points to real-life examples of sloth: an Italian village near Naples with an unusually high number of centenarians who neither run, jog, work out or do anything more strenuous than uncork their bottles of red wine and olive oil.

But there is no answer as to how the factory worker in Livingston or the flat-dweller in Edinburgh with children to feed can live this lifestyle without independent wealth.

Dr Axt, a 60-year-old zoologist by training, said he had once been a leading member of the German Track and Field Association and a long-distance runner, but has since seen the error of his ways. …