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Doing sports rounds instead of watching social media stories

If you spend 30 minutes less on social channels every day and exercise instead, you do a lot for your mental health. This is shown in a study by a team led by Dr Julia Brailovskaia (Ruhr University Bochum).

31. August 2022

Becoming happier and healthier is surprisingly easy and costs nothing.

If you spend 30 minutes less on social channels every day and exercise instead, you do a lot for your mental health. This is shown in a study by the team from the Research and Treatment Centre for Mental Health at the Ruhr University Bochum led by private lecturer Dr Julia Brailovskaia. Test subjects who adhered to it for a fortnight felt happier, more satisfied, less burdened by the Covid 19 pandemic and less depressed than a control group. These effects lasted until the end of the study after six months. The researchers report in the journal Public Health, 2 September 2022.

The downside of social media

In times of lockdowns and contact restrictions due to the Covid 19 pandemic, social media channels such as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp ensured that we could still feel connected to others. But social media consumption also has its drawbacks. Intensive use can lead to addictive behaviour that manifests itself in emotional dependence, for example. In addition, fake news and conspiracy theories can spread uncontrollably on social channels, causing even more anxiety.

“Given the lack of clarity about how long the Corona crisis would last, we wanted to know how to help protect people’s mental health with services that are as free and low-threshold as possible,” explains Julia Brailovskaia. To find out whether 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 subjects, who they randomly assigned to each of four groups of roughly equal size. The first group reduced their daily social media consumption by 30 minutes during an intervention period of two weeks. As it was known from previous studies that physical activity can increase well-being and reduce depressive symptoms, the second group increased the duration of physical activity by 30 minutes daily during this period, while continuing to use social media often and for a long time. The third group combined both, reducing social media use and increasing physical activity. A control group did not change their behaviour.

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

Julia Brailovskaia
Julia Brailosvskaia researches connections between the use of social media and well-being. (Photo: Laukötter, CAIS)

Healthy and happy in the age of digitalisation

The results of the experiment clearly showed that both reducing daily time on social media and increasing physical activity have a positive impact on well-being. Especially the combination of both increases life satisfaction and the subjective feeling of happiness and reduces depressive symptoms. And these effects last for a long time. 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.

“This shows us that it is important to limit one’s online accessibility from time to time and to return to one’s human roots,” Julia Brailovskaia summarises. “These measures are easy to implement and cost nothing – but help to stay happy and healthy in the digital age.”

Text: Meike Drießen (Ruhr University Bochum)

Original publication

Julia Brailovskaia, Verena J. Swarlik, Georg A. Grethe, Holger Schillack, Jürgen Margraf: Experimental longitudinal evidence for causal role of social media use and physical activity in COVID-19 burden and mental health, in: Journal of Public Health, 2022, 10.1007/s10389-022-01751-x


CAISzeit episode: Social media and mental health with PD Dr. Julia Brailovskaia