Burning calories at the gym avoids burnout at work

February 23, 2012

Obesity can be a dangerous risk to our physical health, but according to a Tel Aviv University researcher, avoiding the gym can also take a toll on our mental health, leading to depression and greater burnout rates at work.

Dr. Sharon Toker of TAU's Recanati Faculty of Management, working with Dr. Michal Biron from the University of Haifa, discovered that employees who found the time to engage in physical activity were less likely to experience a of their , including symptoms of and . The best benefits were achieved among those exercising for four hours per week — they were approximately half as likely to experience deterioration in their mental state as those who did no physical activity.

Drs. Toker and Biron say that employers will benefit from encouraging the physical fitness of their employees. If the fight against isn't enough of an incentive, inspiring workers to be physically active lessens high heath costs, reduces absenteeism, and increases productivity in the workplace. Their research was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Preventing a downward spiral

Though depression and burnout are connected, they are not the same entity, says Dr. Toker. Depression is a clinical mood disorder, and burnout is defined by physical, cognitive, and emotional exhaustion. But both contribute towards a "spiral of loss" where the loss of one resource, such as a job, could have a domino effect and lead to the loss of other resources such as one's home, marriage, or sense of self-worth.

Originally designed to examine the relationship between depression and burnout, the study assessed the personal, occupational, and psychological states of 1,632 healthy Israeli workers in both the private and public sectors. Participants completed questionnaires when they came to medical clinics for routine check-ups and had three follow-up appointments over a period of nine years.

Findings indicate that an increase in depression predicts an increase in job burnout over time, and vice versa. But for the first time, the researchers also considered the participants' levels of physical activity, defined as any activity that increases the heart rate and brings on a sweat. The participants were divided into four groups: one that did not engage in physical activity; a second that did 75 to 150 minutes of physical activity a week; a third that did 150 to 240 minutes a week; and a fourth that did more than 240 minutes a week.

Depression and burnout rates were clearly the highest among the group that did not participate in physical activity. The more physical activity that participants engaged in, the less likely they were to experience elevated depression and burnout levels during the next three years. The optimal amount of physical activity was a minimum of 150 minutes per week, where its benefits really started to take effect.

In those who engaged in 240 minutes of physical activity or more, the impact of burnout and depression was almost nonexistent. But even 150 minutes a week will have a highly positive impact, says Dr. Toker, helping people to deal with their workday, improving self-efficacy and self-esteem, and staving off the spiral of loss.

Fighting stress at work

If they're feeling stressed at work, employees can always ask the boss to effect changes, such as providing more opportunities for emotional support in the workplace. But if the organization is unwilling to change, workers can turn to physical activities in their leisure time as an effective stress management tool.

Far-sighted employers can benefit by building a gym on company grounds or subsidizing memberships to gyms in the community, and by allowing for flexible work hours to encourage employees to make an integral part of their day, suggests Dr. Toker. Such a strategy pays business dividends in the long run.

Explore further: Some exercise is better than none; more is better to reduce heart disease risk

Related Stories

Some exercise is better than none; more is better to reduce heart disease risk

August 1, 2011
Even small amounts of physical activity will help reduce heart disease risk, and the benefit increases as the amount of activity increases, according to a quantitative review reported in Circulation, journal of the American ...

More years to life and life to years through increased motivation for an active life

November 1, 2011
Regular physical activity is associated with a lower risk of suffering depression in old age. This is shown by one of the largest studies on elderly Europeans to have been carried out, by researchers at the University of ...

Recommended for you

Gene associated with schizophrenia risk regulates neurodevelopment

September 25, 2017
A gene associated with the risk of schizophrenia regulates critical components of early brain development, according to a new study led by researchers from Penn State University. The gene is involved in the translation of ...

Child abuse affects brain wiring

September 25, 2017
Researchers from the McGill Group for Suicide Studies, based at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University's Department of Psychiatry, have just published research in the American Journal of Psychiatry ...

For a better 'I,' there needs to be a supportive 'we'

September 25, 2017
If you're one of those lucky individuals with high motivation and who actively pursues personal growth goals, thank your family and friends who support you.

Babies can learn that hard work pays off

September 21, 2017
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. A new study from MIT reveals that babies as young as 15 months can learn to follow this advice. The researchers found that babies who watched an adult struggle at two different ...

Study links brain inflammation to suicidal thinking in depression

September 21, 2017
Patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) have increased brain levels of a marker of microglial activation, a sign of inflammation, according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry by researchers at the University of ...

Oxytocin turns up the volume of your social environment

September 20, 2017
Before you shop for the "cuddle" hormone oxytocin to relieve stress and enhance your social life, read this: a new study from the University of California, Davis, suggests that sometimes, blocking the action of oxytocin in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.