The Science of Laziness


It can feel good lounging around and doing
nothing…sometimes too good! Whether it’s to avoid work or escape physical activity,
we’ve all had those days. But why are some people way lazier than others? Is there a
‘couch-potato gene’ that causes lazy behaviour? Evolution has molded our brains and bodies
to respond positively to natural rewards such as food, sex and even exercise. Wait – exercise??
Yup, the pleasure we experience comes largely from the dopamine system in our brain, which
conveys these messages throughout the body, ultimately helping to ensure the survival
of our species. For many, the pleasure derived from exercise can become just as addictive
as food and sex. But while we’re all up for more food and sex, many struggle with the
desire for physical activity, even though it’s an essential part of human biology. Scientists studying mice have found an interesting
genetic connection. After separating mice into two groups – those that chose to run
on their wheel more often, and those that decided not to run as much – the difference
was clear in their offspring. After 10 generations, the running mice would run on their wheels
75% more often than the other group, and by 16 generations they were running 7 miles a
day as opposed to the average 4 miles. It seemed their motivation for physical activity
was genetic. We all inherit genes from our parents that
play a key role in the development of our brains, and these genes can make some people
literally crave activity. In fact, the brains of the running mice had larger dopamine systems
and regions that deal with motivation and reward. They needed activity, otherwise their
brains would react similar to drug addicted rodents when deprived of cocaine or nicotine.
They were genetically addicted to running. We also inherit genes responsible for our
other traits – from impulsivity, to procrastination to work ethic and straight up laziness. And
it turns out our physical laziness may be linked to a couch potato gene – or rather,
a mutation in a normal gene which regulates activity levels. This gene is responsible
for a type of dopamine receptor – without it, you’re more likely to prefer sitting around,
and simply doing less than those who have the properly functioning gene. So the truth is, your desire for activity
may not be entirely up to you. But many environmental factors are also at play, which means you
aren’t doomed to a life of laziness. Although making a change will be harder for some, knowledge
is power. So if you think you are genetically lazy, get off the couch and fight your DNA.
Your brain will reward you in the end. Need some help to get there? Check out our
past videos on the Science of Productivity which might help you improve your motivation
and fight that laziness! And if you’d like to learn more about the
amazing science behind extraordinary athletic performance, check out one of our favourite
books “The Sports Gene” by David Epstein which was a major source for this episode. It’s
a great read and you get a copy of it using the link in the description below! And subscribe for more weekly science videos!

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