The Scientific Reason You Lack Workout Motivation

If you sometimes find you just can't drag yourself off the couch after work to squeeze in a gym session, well, go ahead and blame it on your caveman kin and not the new levels you're taking the term "lazy" to these days (can scrolling through Netflix count as cardio?). As it turns out, humans are just genetically predisposed to laziness — or at least that's what evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman believes, as profiled in a recent piece written by Jonathan Shaw for Harvard Magazine. And since the other theories that seem to be circulating regarding the intrinsic laziness of humans seem to lay the blame more squarely in modern humans' laps, I'm gonna go ahead and say I'm on board with Dr. Lieberman's declaration. See also: I won't be making my spin class later because, like my nomadic ancestors, I need to conserve energy. Also because it's raining, but mainly the nomadic ancestor thing.

It makes a lot of sense if you think about it, after all. Look at other animals. Many large mammals sleep most of the day away, an evolutionary trait that helps them conserve energy for when they need it most to survive — i.e. hunting, migrating, fleeing, etc. And therein lies the crux of Lieberman's theory. Way back in the day when our ancestors were nomadic and food sources weren't readily available, they couldn't burn energy on anything that didn't serve the purpose of procuring sustenance to keep themselves and their progeny alive. So even though they were probably in pretty peak physical condition, it was because their natural world was much more demanding ... not because they spent two hours sweating through the latest fitness fad for fun.

"No hunter-gather goes out for a job, just for the sake of it, I can tell you from personal experience," Lieberman explained in the Harvard Magazine article. "They go out to forage, they go out to work, but anything else would be unwise." However — and this is a big one — Lieberman doesn't suggest we should use this evolutionary information as an excuse to cancel our gym memberships and become full-time couch potatoes. Rather, he suggests that the way to fend off millions of years of human evolution urging us to just call it a day instead of hitting the gym is to make exercise more rewarding.

Granted, the whole being healthy is a major incentive to workout. However, the stakes were higher for our ancestors. The reason they expended extreme effort was because they knew they'd receive a meal — something they weren't always guaranteed and which they needed to survive — if they put in the work. Since modern humans don't have to worry about the scarcity of food, this incentive system isn't a viable plan. Otherwise, we'd all be hitting the gym and rewarding ourselves with tacos every time after. Lieberman says the key is to make exercise more social through community sports.

Having said all of this, we should probably discuss the aforementioned theories that don't support Lieberman's theory of evolutionary laziness. In fact, there are a few different lenses used to view laziness. Like, for example, laziness being the result of some physical or physiological issue. According to integrative surgery and medicine specialist and author Dr. Steven Park, the reason you're so gosh darn lazy could have much more to do with the quality of sleep you're getting than how your ancestry has you hard-wired. "Many supposed 'lazy' people that I see in my practice often have a sleep breathing problem called Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (or UARS for short)," Dr. Park writes on his website. "This often occurs to those who have a smaller than average airway opening, or a bigger than average tongue to jaw size ratio. And for those who suffer from UARS, this is the primary reason why they're not getting the deep and restful sleep that they truly need and desperately desire." In turn, this makes them quote-unquote lazy.

But you could also come at the issue from a psychological standpoint. In an article on Psychology Today adapted from his new book Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of Emotions, Dr. Neel Burton contends that most lazy people aren't intrinsically lazy, but are lazy due to myriad possible psychological reasons spanning the spectrum from dissatisfaction with their career or life path to fear and hopelessness. "In the longer term, the only way to overcome laziness is to profoundly understand its nature and particular causes: to think, think, and think and, over the years, slowly find a better way of living."

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