New research shows that swapping just half an hour of screen time for exercise every day could massively boost our mental health.
In the study a group of 642 people scrolled less often and exercised more. As a result, they became less stressed and felt less depressed.
In fact, participants felt happier after just two weeks of switching screens for physical activity.
The research idea was sparked after professor Dr Julia Brailovskaia became concerned about people's mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her team from the Mental Health Research and Treatment Centre at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, set about finding simple ways to ease the toll on our mental health. As expected, their six-month study confirmed the direct link between social media use and our happiness levels.
The scientists warned about the distress and anxiety that can be caused by the abundant fake news and conspiracy theories floating across social media platforms.
“We didn’t know for certain how long the coronavirus crisis would last, but we wanted to know how to protect people’s mental health,” explains Dr Brailovskaia.
The participants were split equally between four different groups. Over a two-week period one 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 use and increasing physical activity. Finally, the fourth team made no changes over the same stretch.
Participants took online surveys before, during and up to six months after the two-week trial.
They answered similar questions about their physical activity, satisfaction with life, feelings of happiness, depressive symptoms, cigarette consumption and the psychological burden of the pandemic.
The findings published in the Journal of Public Health clearly showed that reducing time on social media and increasing physical activity every day had positive effects on participants' health and happiness levels.
Combining the two proved the most effective – making both changes significantly increased volunteers’ sense of life satisfaction, feelings of happiness and eased depressive symptoms.
The experiment demonstrates the importance of switching off and getting active in a world where social media can repeatedly affect our mood.
“This shows us how vital it is to reduce our availability online from time to time and to go back to our human roots,” says Dr Brailovskaia.
“These measures can be easily implemented into your everyday life and they’re completely free – and, at the same time, they help us to stay happy and healthy in the digital age.”
Watch: These exercises can help you build mental resilience