Replacing the use of social media with physical activity improves mental health

Half an hour out, this lifts the mood. Credit: RUB, Marquard

If you spend 30 minutes less on social media every day and engage in physical activity instead, you do a lot to improve your mental health. This is demonstrated in a study conducted by a team from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum Mental Health Research and Treatment Center led by assistant professor Julia Brailovskaia.

Participants who followed this advice for two weeks felt happier, more satisfied, less stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and less depressed than a control group. These effects also lasted for six months after the study ended. The researchers published their results in Public Health Journal on September 2, 2022.

The downside of social media

In times of blocking and contact restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social media channels such as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp ensured that we still felt connected with other people. They distracted us from the stress caused by the pandemic, which has led many people to feel anxiety, insecurities and despair. But social media consumption also has its drawbacks. Intensive use can lead to addictive behaviors that manifest, for example, in a close emotional bond with social media. Furthermore, fake news and conspiracy theories can spread uncontrollably on social channels and trigger even more anxiety.

“Since we don’t know for sure how long the coronavirus crisis will last, we wanted to know how to protect people’s mental health with services that are as free and low-threshold as possible,” explains Julia Brailovskaia. To find out if the type and duration of social media use can contribute to this, she conducted an experimental study as part of her fellowship at the Center for Advanced Internet Studies (CAIS).

A two week experiment

She and her team recruited a total of 642 volunteers, randomly assigning them to one of four roughly equal-sized groups. The first group reduced daily social media consumption by 30 minutes over a two-week intervention period. Since previous studies had shown that physical activity can increase well-being and reduce depressive symptoms, the second group increased the duration of physical activity by 30 minutes per day during this time, while continuing to use social media as usual. The third group combined both, reducing social media use and increasing physical activity. A control group did not change behavior during the intervention phase.

Before, during and up to six months after the two-week intervention phase, participants responded to online surveys on the duration, intensity and emotional significance of their use of social media, physical activity, their satisfaction with life, their subjective feeling of happiness, depressive symptoms, the psychological burden of the COVID-19 pandemic and their cigarette consumption.

Healthy and happy in the age of digitalization

The results clearly showed that both reducing the amount of time spent on social media each day and increasing physical activity have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing. And in particular, the combination of the two interventions increases satisfaction with life and the subjective feeling of happiness and reduces depressive symptoms. The effects last long: Even six months after the end of the two-week intervention phase, participants in all three intervention groups spent less time on social media than before: that is, about half an hour in the groups who had reduced social media time or increased their daily exercise and about three-quarters of an hour in the group that had combined both measures. Six months after the surgery, the combined group spent an hour and 39 minutes more each week in physical activity than before the experiment. The positive influence on mental health continued throughout the follow-up period.

“This shows us how vital it is to reduce our online availability from time to time and go back to our human roots,” concludes Julia Brailovskaia. “These measures can be easily implemented in everyday life and are completely free and, at the same time, help us stay happy and healthy in the digital age.”

Fewer smartphones, more well-being, says a study

More information:
Julia Brailovskaia et al, Experimental longitudinal evidence for the causal role of social media use and physical activity in COVID-19 burden and mental health, Public Health Journal (2022). DOI: 10.1007 / s10389-022-01751-x

Provided by Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum

Citation: Replacing the use of social media with physical activity improves mental health (2022, 7 September) recovered on 7 September 2022 from mental-health.html

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