- Reducing thirty minutes per day of social media time each day with regular physical exercise will improve emotional well-being and ease stress, German researchers say.
- The health benefits of exercise continued to be evident for as long as six months after the completion of their research.
- Users who cut down on social media, and also exercised more enjoyed more satisfaction and less stress related to the COVID-19 epidemic.
- The reduction in social media usage can also be correlated with a decrease in smoking.
Social media usage exploded following COVID-19’s lockdowns as well as contact restrictions. Millions of people turned on Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and other platforms to alleviate feelings of loneliness, anxiety and despair.
But, excessive screen time can lead to addiction, a stronger emotions attached to social media and a greater mental angst for a lot of people.
Researchers from the Ruhr-Universitatt in Bochum, Germany investigated the impacts of reducing the use of social media (SMU) as well as increasing physical activity, or both on the emotional well-being of people and smoking.
Julia Brailosvskaia, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University’s Mental Health Research and Treatment Center she was the lead researcher for the two-week study.
Brailosvskaia along with her colleagues noticed that the strategies they proposed could have contributed to improving participants’ overall satisfaction with life. After a six-month follow-up the participants reported spending less time using social media, sustaining their physical activity and feeling more relaxed and less likely to smoke.
Social media’s effects consumption on health
The study’s authors pointed out the fact that health mental “consists of two interrelated but separate dimensions: positive and negative.”
In this way they concluded that the positive impact of their intervention could “increase life satisfaction and subjective happiness.” The negative side would diminish “depression symptoms and addictive tendencies of SMU.”
Medical News Today discussed this study with Dr.Sheldon Zablow, a writer and nutritionist psychiatrist. Zablow was not directly involved in the research.
When asked about the impact that social media have on the mental state Dr. Zablow asserted:
- “If activities are incompatible with fundamental milestones for age-appropriate economic independence, socialization, or health maintenance, they can be negative. The activities could be alcohol use, substance use, dietary choices, exercise choices, or entertainment choices–specifically social media.”
Dr. Zablow warned that excessive social media use can damage social bonds between people and can adversely affect mental health of people..
Social media usage could cause mental health issues to worsen
MNT also had a discussion with Dr. David A. Merrill, psychiatrist for adults and geriatrics and Director of Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, concerning the present study. He was not part of the study.
Dr. Merrill argued that the term”social media” is a “misnomer that’s almost like a bait and switch,” intended “to increase user engagement.”
A lot of social media usage According to him, it “could end up exacerbating” mental disorders for those suffering from mental health issues or addiction vulnerability.
“There’s the brain reward system that you get from clicking or scrolling or maintaining the use of the social media,” Dr. Merrill said.
“I think [that the authors are] demonstrating causally that you both need to have a conscious awareness of the need to limit the self-soothing aspect of social media use, and you also need to have alternatives, so you need to have some other way to bring joy into your life, and especially during the pandemic.”
Exercise benefits the brain
As psychiatrist Dr. Zablow emphasized that “the fundamental element of any treatment plan is exercising. Therapy, and, if indicated medications, do not be effective if the patient is not exercising.”
“Dr. Zablow added that exercise enhances the amount of neurotransmitters which are the brain’s “natural antidepressants and antianxiety molecules.”
Thus, more physical activity can improve mental health, whereas reduced activity due to excessive use of social media can impede the healthy brain chemical.
Participants can be contacted and surveyed
“Dr. Brailosvskaia and her colleagues considered that Dr. Brailosvskaia and her colleagues believed that a “conscious and controlled reduction of time spent on SMU as well as an increase of time spent on physical activity could causally reduce negative mental health consequences of the COVID-19 situation.” They also believed that mixing the two interventions could increase the impact.
The professor emphasized that the strategies are easily incorporated into daily routine life, with no expense, effort or risk of a violation of COVID-19 protocol.
Furthermore, the researchers believed that their study would reduce the stress caused by COVID-19 as well as reduce smoking habits.
Researchers recruited 642 healthy, adult social media users, and then placed them in four groups for experimentation.
Social media (SM) group comprised 162 members, physically active (PA) group was 161, a combined group of 160, and an uncontrolled group of 160.
Over the course of 2 weeks, SM participants reduced their daily SMU duration by 30 minutes while the PA group increased their physical exercise for 30 mins. The combined group incorporated both interventions, whereas the controls did not affect their habits.
Following the World Health Organization’s physical activity recommendationsTrusted Source for adults, the first three groups increased their exercise time by 30 minutes.
Participants took online surveys as well as “daily compliance” diaries at the beginning of the experiment, 1 weeks later and then after the two-week period. The participants also completed survey follow-ups at the time of 1, 3 and 6 months after the experiment.
The study’s findings
Dr. Brailosvskaia and her team concluded that their intervention assisted people in reducing the amount of amount of time they are spending using SM.
After 6 months of the test, “the participants had reduced their daily initial SM time by about 37 minutes in the SM group, by about 33 minutes in the PA group, and by about 46 minutes in the combination group.”
In addition, some participants reported less emotional connection to social media.
The interventions all encouraged more physical activity too. “Six months later, our participants had enhanced their initial weekly physical activity time for 26 minutes in the SM group, for 40 minutes in the PA group, and for 1 hour 39 minutes in the combination group,” the authors wrote.
The control group, too, had increased their activity by 20 minutes.
Strengths and Limitations
The Dr. Merrill was impressed with the study’s “striking findings with the combination of reducing social media with increasing physical activity.” He was in agreement with the idea that SMU limitations require a complementary exercise that can bring satisfaction or feelings of accomplishment.
According to the study’s authors according to the study’s creators, the “experimental longitudinal design” of their current research has allowed the study to prove causality.
The study’s population was not diverse. All of the participants were female, young, German, Caucasian, and extremely educated.
The Dr. Merrill felt that, although it might make it “interesting” to replicate this study within the United States with a more diverse population however, the results could be the same.
The study did not take into account the kind of SMU the participants used or the kind of physical activity participants participated in. Researchers hope that the next research will be more focused on these elements.
Healthier in the age of digitization’
Dr. Brailosvskaia’s study suggests that small modifications to SMU as well as physical exercise can aid in enhancing and protecting mental health easily and cost-effectively.
The team of the professor are aware of how SMU can reduce the isolation of students and also help spread knowledge.
“From time to time, it is important to consciously limit one’s online accessibility and to go back to the human roots — […] a physically active lifestyle — to stay happy and healthy in the age of digitalization,” the researchers wrote.