Cover Three young friends running up on stone stairs

Everyday activity like housework and day-to-day journeys on foot could help boost energy and improve well-being, according to a study carried out by researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Central Institute of Mental Health (CIMH) in Mannheim.

It's well-known that physical activity has a positive impact on mental health. Now, researchers have looked specifically at certain day-to-day activities. Published in the journal, Science Advances, the study shows that doing housework, climbing stairs or walking rather than taking the car for short journeys, could significantly enhance well-being. And the research comes just at the right time, with covid-19 restrictions keeping gyms closed and lockdown measures proving a source of anxiety and stress for many.

To come to this conclusion, the researchers subjected 67 people to ambulant assessments to establish the impact of everyday activity on their alertness for seven days. They observed that participants felt more alert and had more energy just after the activity, and that these were important components of participants' well-being and mental health.

Next, the researchers measured the volume of gray brain matter in a group of 83 people using magnetic resonance tomography to find out which parts of the brain play a role in these everyday processes. They found that the subgenual cingulate cortex -- a section of the cerebral cortex -- is important to the interaction between everyday activity and affective well-being. This brain region is where emotions and resistance to psychiatric disorders are regulated.

"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," explains professor Heike Tost, who contributed to the study. "After everyday activity, however, these persons felt even more filled with energy than persons with a larger brain volume."

The research shows that taking the stairs rather than the elevator could have a positive impact on well-being -- especially for people susceptible to psychiatric disorders. In the future, the scientists suggest that their findings could, for example, be used in a smartphone app to encourage users to be more active to boost their well-being when their energy drops.

In the meantime, the research could also help the many people suffering from stress, anxiety or even depression since the onset of the public health crisis. "Currently, we are experiencing strong restrictions of public life and social contacts, which may adversely affect our wellbeing. To feel better, it may help to more often climb stairs," advises professor Heike Tost.

Read also: Why You Should Incorporate Cardiovascular Exercise And Strength Training Into Your Routine

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