everyday physical activities

New research study shows how everyday physical activities, such as climbing stairs, can improve personal well-being.

The benefits of physical activity on physical and mental health are well known. However, the different subtypes of physical activity are not always considered. Exercise activities are structured physical activities that are done over a prolonged time and require high amounts of physical energy (e.g. playing soccer), whereas non-exercise activities are all other regular everyday physical activities, such as walking to the bus stop or climbing the stairs. The distinction between these two types of physical activity is often overlooked and previous studies have mainly focused on the benefits of physical exercise activities while ignoring the potential benefits of non-exercise everyday physical activities on personal well-being.

In a study published in Science Advances, researchers in Germany and the United States studied the benefits of everyday physical activities and the mechanism behind how they can improve personal well-being. The researchers performed two separate studies, one to evaluate the effect of non-exercise everyday physical activities on energy levels and mood, and a second to evaluate the brain mechanisms behind the potential positive effect of everyday physical activities on personal well-being.

In the first study, 67 participants were fitted with sensor devices that measured the amount of non-exercise everyday physical activities. Over seven days, the participants answered surveys on their smartphones in real time (triggered by location tracking when they moved) about their personal well-being and energy levels. They found that most people felt more alert and energized directly after activity, both of which were considered important factors of the participants’ overall personal well-being.

In the second study of 83 participants, in addition to the analysis of their first study, MRI imaging was done to measure the amount of grey matter in the brain and determine the key brain regions involved with everyday processing. The researchers identified the sgACC as an important region of the brain important for emotional and motivational processing and overall personal well-being. Individuals with a low volume of grey matter in the sgACC brain region and a higher risk of mental health disorders had less energy when they were not physically active. Further, lower grey matter volume in the sgACC brain region has been frequently identified in bipolar disorder and depression. Considering that depression is also associated with decreased physical activity and energy, the researchers hypothesize that their results could hint at a potential mechanism for mood disorders.

The findings suggest that everyday physical activities can be important to overall personal well-being, particularly in individuals who are more susceptible to or are at higher risk of mood disorders. Their findings can act as a starting point for future, more in-depth research on the impact of everyday physical activities on personal well-being, including their potential as a modifiable target as an intervention for mental health prevent and treatment.

 Written by Maggie Leung, PharmD.

References

Reichert, M., Braun, U., Gan, G., Reinhard, I., Giurgiu, M., Ma, R., Zang, Z., Hennig, O., Koch, E. D., Wieland, L., Schweiger, J., Inta, D., Hoell, A., Akdeniz, C., Zipf, A., Ebner-Priemer, U. W., Tost, H., & Meyer-Lindenberg, A. (2020). A neural mechanism for affective well-being: Subgenual cingulate cortex mediates real-life effects of nonexercise activity on energy. Science Advances, 6(45), eaaz8934. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaz8934

Everyday activities enhance personal well-being. (2020, November 25). EurekAlert! https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-11/kift-eae112520.php

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