The next time you find yourself skipping the gym in favor of snoozing on the porch, consider this: maybe you’re just too smart to be an exercise fanatic. No offense to anyone who loves spin class and training for that 5K, of course, but according to a study published this month in the Journal of Health Psychology, people who tend to be more physically active may spend less exercising their brains.
Researchers at Florida Gulf Coast University divided 60 students into two groups: those with a high need for cognition (NFC) and those with a low need for it and then tracked their physical activity. NFC is "a tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive endeavors," and it means enjoying things like logic problems, brain teasers, deep thinking, and mental challenges like those that arise at work. The researchers measured NFC via an 18-question survey that asks people questions like whether they enjoy “tasks that require little thought once I've learned them” or if thinking is “their idea of fun.” One of the study’s authors, Todd McElroy, a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, told Broadly that those who prefer doing mundane tasks that do not stimulate the mind, tend to have a low NFC.
WATCH: Biggest Study of Teen Brains in U.S. History Hopes to Reveal Effects of Screen Time
Once sorted into low or high NFC groups, the students strapped on a Fitbit-like device to measure their activity for a week. When they compared the activity levels, or lack thereof, between the two groups, researchers found the difference was substantial: The group with the low NFC moved significantly more every day during the week than those in the high NFC group. The only time the activity levels equalized was on the weekend,
While the lazier among us may want to crow that this is proof of higher intelligence, that’s not quite what the study shows. It’s more that people who like to challenge their brains—those in the high NFC group—are a lot more comfortable with their thoughts and are happier tackling complex problems, but aren't necessarily smarter, per se. As the Independent points out, the need for cognition is not a measure of intelligence: "People with lower IQs can enjoy a contemplative life and a good cognitive challenge, for instance. Similarly, plenty of people with high IQs dislike using their brain in challenging ways."
Basically, high NFC people are happy keeping themselves entertained with their thoughts, whereas low-NFC individuals tend to get bored quickly. It’s less about intelligence, but a willingness to think deeply about complicated problems.
This is all to say that the next time someone is slacking off, they may not be truly lazy. Instead, they may simply have more on their minds—while sitting in a hammock, swaying in the breeze