By Pol Allingham via SWNS
Swapping screens for exercise for just 30 minutes a day could massively boost mental health, according to new research.
Participants in a study felt happier for six months after just two weeks spent switching screens for physical activity
Over the same six-month period the group scrolled less, exercised more, became less stressed and less depressed.
The research was inspired when professor Dr. Julia Brailovskaia became concerned about people's mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study author realized the connection people were finding in social media while they were locked down was also having a toll on their happiness.
To intervene she set up a team from Mental Health Research and Treatment Centre at Germany's Ruhr-Universität Bochum and set out to find cheap and accessible ways to ease the toll on mental health.
The scientists warned about the close emotional bond and active behavior that could form with heavy social media users, and the distress and anxiety that can be caused by abundant fake news and conspiracy theories.
She said: “Given that we didn’t know for certain how long the coronavirus crisis would last, we wanted to know how to protect people’s mental health with services that are as free and low-threshold as possible.”
The scientists gathered 642 volunteers and randomly assigned them to one of four groups of roughly equal size.
Over two weeks the first group reduced their daily social media intake by around 30 minutes.
The second increased their physical activity by 30 minutes a day and used social media as usual.
Group three did both - reducing social media and increasing physical activity.
The fourth team made no changes over the period.
Before, during and up to six months after the two-week intervention phase volunteers took online surveys on the duration, intensity and emotional significance of their social media use.
They answered similar questions about their physical activity, satisfaction with life, subjective feeling of happiness, depressive symptoms, cigarette consumption, and the psychological burden of the pandemic.
The findings published in Journal of Public Health clearly revealed both reducing time on social media every day and increasing physical activity have positive effects on people’s health and happiness.
Combining the two proved to be particularly effective - doing both increased volunteers’ satisfaction with life, subjective feeling of happiness, and eased depressive symptoms.
Importantly, the effects lasted.
After six months participants in all three groups spent less time on social media than before.
Those changing one aspect of their daily lives during the intervention period used social media for around half an hour less a day.
By upping the exercise and decreasing social media use, volunteers in group three used it for 45 minutes less a day over the six months follow-up.
The same group engaged in physical exercise for one hour and 39 minutes more each week too for the six months following the experiment.
Overall, the positive boost to mental health persisted for the whole six-month follow-up.
Dr. Brailovskaia said their experiment demonstrates how important it is to reconnect with our human nature, at times when social media and the internet repeatedly intervene with our happiness and health.
She said: “This shows us how vital it is to reduce our availability online from time to time and to go back to our human roots.
“These measures can be easily implemented into one’s everyday life and they’re completely free – and, at the same time, they help us to stay happy and healthy in the digital age.”
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