Study details how certain daily activities can be used to boost energy

If you find yourself feeling sluggish during the day, there may be certain daily habits you can modify to get a boost in energy and alertness, according to a new study. Though deliberate exercise has been linked with positive effects on mental health and energy levels, this new study is different: it focuses on daily activities and how they can be used to increase alertness and a sense of wellbeing.

Daily activity vs. exercise

Exercise, of course, often refers to the deliberate act of getting physical activity — it can range from something as simple as swimming laps to something more strenuous like lifting weights. Most people also get a variety of physical activity during daily life that they wouldn't consider exercise, however, such as doing laundry, taking the stairs, walking between destinations, and similar.

When it comes to researching the link between physical activity and its impact on wellbeing, few studies have focused on daily habits and instead looked into the effects of deliberate bouts of exercise. A new study from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Central Institute of Mental Health (CIMH) in Mannheim is different.

Sense of wellbeing

The researchers studied the daily activities and the positive effects they may have on us using various research methods. One such method was ambulant assessment — tracking movement using sensors like the kind in smartphones — that involved 67 people, for example. Another 83 people contributed to magnetic resonance tomography data.

The researchers found that participants experienced a boost in alertness and energy directly after the activity, both of which contribute to a sense of wellbeing and overall mental health. Using the imaging data, the researchers were also able to shed a light on the brain regions that are involved in these daily activities.

The study found that a part of the cerebral cortex, the subgenual cingulate cortex, plays an important role in mental wellbeing and these daily moments of exercise. This is the same part of the brain where one reaps a protective effect against mental health disorders and where emotions are regulated. The researchers note that people who have smaller volume of gray matter in this brain region felt less energetic when sedentary and are at increased risk of experiencing mental health issues.

Change in habits

CIMH Director professor Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg explained:

The results suggest that physical activity in everyday life is beneficial to well-being, in particular in persons susceptible to psychiatric disorders. In the 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.

Additional research is needed to determine whether, for example, these daily activities can change the gray matter volume in the aforementioned brain region. In the meantime, the study indicates that changing one's habits — such as taking the stairs instead of an elevator — may help make you feel more alert and energized.