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Everyday activities improve well-being and boost brain health

Everyday physical activities are exceptionally beneficial to alertness, energy, and overall cognition, according to a study led by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The researchers found that climbing stairs and other daily tasks can improve well-being and mental health, particularly among individuals who are susceptible to psychiatric disorders.

“Clearly, exercise activities such as playing soccer with friends every Monday and Thursday evening differ from non-exercise activities such as spontaneously fetching papers from the basement at work,” wrote the study authors.  

“Accordingly, exercise activities are defined as structured physical activities with high demands of energy expenditure across prolonged time periods, whereas non-exercise activities comprise all other daily physical activities – e.g., climbing stairs, gardening, and catching the train.”

These daily activities are often processed automatically and habitually or performed spontaneously, explained the researchers. “However, epidemiological studies have ignored this distinction and often considered physical activity as a global construct comprising all human physical activities.”

The team noted that clinical trials focused on the impact of physical exercise on mental health outcomes may overlook the potential benefits of non-exercise activities.

Study co-author Professor Heike suggested that strong restrictions of social interaction during the pandemic may have negative effects on our quality of life. “To feel better, it may help to more often climb stairs.”

For the investigation, the researchers used a variety of assessments such as smartphone tracking to determine the impact of everyday activity on brain health and well-being. The study revealed that participants felt more alert and had more energy after completing daily tasks. 

The experts also found that the volume of gray brain matter in the brain mediates the link between everyday activity and affective well-being. This brain region is known to  regulate emotions and resistance to psychiatric disorders. 

“Persons with a smaller volume of gray brain matter in this region and a higher risk of psychiatric disorders felt less full of energy when they were physically inactive,” said study co-author Heike Tost. “After everyday activity, however, these persons felt even more filled with energy than persons with a larger brain volume.”

According to Professor Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, the results suggest that physical activity in everyday life is especially beneficial for individuals who are susceptible to psychiatric disorders. “In future, the findings of the study might be used in a smartphone app that will motivate users to be active to enhance their well-being in case of decreasing energy.” 

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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