Reducing social media use and increasing physical activity can improve people’s well-being


If you spend 30 minutes less each day on social media and more time engaging in physical activity, you significantly improve your mental health. This is demonstrated by a study undertaken by a team led by Dr. Julia Brailovskaia, an assistant professor at Ruhr-Universität Bochum’s Mental Health Research and Treatment Center. Compared to a control group, participants who followed this advise for two weeks reported feeling happier, more pleased, less stressed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and less sad. These effects persisted six months after the conclusion of the trial. On September 2, 2022, the researchers published their findings in the Journal of Public Health.

The disadvantages of social media
During lockdowns and contact limitations caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, social media platforms like as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp ensured that we still felt connected to others. They diverted our attention away from the tension created by the pandemic, which led many individuals to feel fear, insecurity, and hopelessness. However, social media usage also has disadvantages. Heavy use can lead to addictive behaviour that presents itself in, for example, a tight emotional tie to the social media. Moreover, bogus news and conspiracy theories can spread uncontrollably on social media platforms and exacerbate anxiety.

As part of her fellowship at the Center for Advanced Internet Studies, she ran an experiment to determine whether the type and duration of social media use may have a role in this phenomenon (CAIS).

A two-week investigation
She and her team recruited 642 volunteers and randomly assigned them to one of four groups of almost equal size. The first group reduced their daily social media use by 30 minutes throughout the two-week intervention period. Previous research has demonstrated that physical activity can improve well-being and lessen depression symptoms; therefore, the second group increased their daily physical activity by 30 minutes while continuing to use social media as usual. The third group reduced their use of social media and increased their physical exercise. A control group’s conduct did not alter during the intervention phase.

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

Positive health and happiness in the digital era
Both decreasing the amount of time spent on social media each day and boosting physical exercise have a favourable effect on people’s well-being, according to the study. And especially the combination of the two therapies boosts life satisfaction, subjective happiness, and decreases depressive symptoms. Even six months after the two-week intervention phase had ended, participants in all three intervention groups spent less time on social media than previously: approximately a half hour in the groups that had either reduced social media time or increased their daily exercise, and approximately three-quarters of an hour in the group that had combined both measures. The combination group engaged in one hour and 39 minutes more physical activity per week six months after the intervention than before the investigation. The favourable impact on mental health persisted during the full term of follow-up.


Journal reference:
Brailovskaia, J., et al. (2022) Experimental longitudinal evidence for causal role of social media use and physical activity in COVID-19 burden and mental health. Journal of Public Health.

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