4 fascinating lessons we can learn from 'lazy' animals, according to researchers

For more than 30 days, people in a northern Montenegro village have been lying down in the streets. It's part of their annual "Laziest Citizen" contest that was created 12 years ago to mock the theory that Montenegrins are among the laziest humans on the planet. But maybe emulating the behavior of a sloth isn't as bad as we think. In contrast to our fast-paced, high-stress human lives, there are plenty of animals that lead a much slower existence and still manage to survive and thrive. "Today, humans depend on their intelligence and technology for survival," Ron Magill, communications director at Zoo Miami tells Yahoo Life. "Animals have much greater instincts and finely tuned senses that they depend on that have become dulled in humans." But you don't have to compete in a "Laziest Citizen" contest to benefit from what experts say are the potential perks of slowing down. Here are four lessons we can learn from our lazy animal friends.

Lesson #1: Conserve energy like a sloth

The very definition of the word "sloth" is "an unwillingness to work or make any effort." But some say we humans have these slow, shaggy beasts all wrong. "They are not lazy, they're energy efficient!" Amelia Symeou, ecology coordinator for the Sloth Conservation Foundation tells Yahoo Life. "The entire remit of sloth evolution is energy conservation — everything from their noses to the architecture of their muscle fibers have evolved to use as little energy as possible."

Symeou, who conducted a recent study on sloths, says these creatures have the slowest metabolic rate of any land mammal and therefore digest their food at an especially slow pace. "Their daily caloric intake is very low, likely less than 400 calories per day," adds Symeou. "It takes around 28 days for them to digest one leaf!" Also, these large tropical animals are blind during daylight hours, which means their movements must be slow and deliberate to safely navigate the rainforest treetops. And by slow, we mean slow. At top speed, sloths move at about 1.5 miles per hour. Symeou says these calculated activity patterns protect sloths from attracting the attention of predators.

Magill says that by examining these “lazy behaviors,” humans might learn how to better conserve their own energy and accept that rest is an important part of survival. “Rather than interpreting someone who ‘sleeps in’ as being ‘lazy’, it is perhaps better to understand that they are simply recharging so that they can do their ‘awake’ activities more efficiently and effectively.” So the next time you are accused of acting like a sloth, maybe just say thank you.

Lesson #2: Embrace your inner slug and use less resources

New research is challenging Darwin's “survival of the fittest” theory and instead suggesting a new concept for longevity: “survival of the sluggish.”

In a study which analyzed 300 species of mollusks including slugs and snails, researchers discovered that the species with lower basal metabolic rates were most likely to survive extinction. "We think it's because those organisms with lower physiology require less resources," Bruce Lieberman, co-author of the study and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, tells Yahoo Life. "Especially when conditions change, including climate, the overall available resources will typically decline. Those organisms that need less resources will therefore tend to survive." Lieberman says the research team knew physiology was an important element of extinction, but they didn't think it would be so overwhelmingly important.

But before you decide to become a couch potato, there are a few things to consider. First and foremost, modern-day humans are quite different from the soft-bodied invertebrates examined in the study. However, when it comes to our consumption habits, Lieberman says the study offers some overarching themes we could learn from. "By wasting less food and energy, we as a species will increase the availability and the amount of resources, thereby benefiting our species," Lieberman says. "We're not saying don't move around nor are we disputing the benefits of exercise — keep on exercising people! Rather, we argue by analogy that, especially during times of climate change, the odds of surviving in the long term can increase if we use less resources." Considering that humans have already depleted the amount of available resources the Earth has to give us this year, maybe these slugs are on to something. So, go ahead, be a slug! You can tell people you're just saving the human race.

Lesson #3: Make like a bear and take the easy route

If you've ever crossed paths with a bear, there may be a reason for that. Turns out they like to take the easy route — just like we do! A recent study explored the movements of grizzly bears and found that these massive mammals prefer to avoid steep hills and overexertion, which often leads them to the human-built trails found in parks. But this doesn't necessarily mean they are lazy. "They are not lazy in the sense that we use that term," Charles Robbins, a professor at the Washington State University Bear Center who oversaw the study, tells Yahoo Life. "Their goal in food-limited environments is to be energy efficient, which means to take the lowest-cost path, forage as efficiently as possible and conserve as much energy as possible."

The study also found that bears move at a slower pace than researchers expected. “Most animals do move at the most efficient speed to minimize cost per unit time and distance. Just watch humans walking, and you’ll notice that most of us walk at a relatively narrow range of speeds,” explains Robbins. “We found that grizzly bears don’t move as fast as they should based on that assumption.”

Robbins says one of the main reasons bears are just fine taking their time is because these powerful predators don’t have to worry about being visibly exposed like prey animals do. When asked if he believes humans also possess this innate urge to avoid exertion, Robbins says, “Certainly to some extent. Evolutionarily, there have not been hamburgers, fries, candy bars, chips, available 24 hours a day within a few hundred yards. If you were a human for thousands of years previously, you would want to do the same thing that bears do: conserve energy and consume or store as much food energy as possible during good times.” But he says unless you plan on hibernation for at least five months to burn that stored energy, adopting a bear’s behavior is probably not going to benefit your health or your waistline. In other words, opt for a nap instead.

Lesson #4: Learn from the lions and prioritize rest

A typical day in the life of a lion includes about 20 hours of rest. These big cats walk an average of two hours daily and spend about an hour eating. That might sound like they're being lazy, but Magill says being king of the jungle isn't easy. "The hours that they are awake often require tremendous amounts of energy and stamina in order for them to hunt and kill prey that is fast and strong," the animal expert explains. "In addition, the battles with other lions over territory can be a matter of life and death that need incredible bursts of speed and strength." At a time when nearly one in five Americans uses medication to help them get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep, Magill says lions might teach us a thing or two. "We could learn a lot from the animals on how to prioritize rest to help ensure a more productive overall lifestyle."

Speaking of productivity, Devon Price, author ofLaziness Does Not Exist: A Defense of the Exhausted, Exploited, and Overworked, tells Yahoo Life that in order to slow our lives down, we need to dispel the theory that our worth is determined by our productivity — a theory that doesn't exist in the animal world. "Animals are not neurotic. They eat when they're hungry, they sleep when they're tired. They don't question whether they've written enough emails to deserve to go use the litter box, right?" Price, who is a psychologist and professor at Loyola University Chicago's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, says we don't ask animals to justify their "lazy" behavior, so why should we put that pressure on ourselves? "If we could feel about ourselves and the other people around us, the way we feel about our pets, we would have a much more compassionate society and we wouldn't all be working ourselves to the bone so much."

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