Treadmills Handle the Rat Race

Exercise helps prevent burnout and depression and may improve productivity of employees

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(RxWiki News) If you feel like you're your thoughts are caught in a hamster wheel, it may be time to hop on a pair of real wheels - and use physical exercise to stave off burnout.

A pair of researchers in Israel have discovered that workers who exercise at least four hours a week are about half as likely to experience burnout or depression.

"Exercise a minimum of 2.5 hours a week to avoid burnout."

Burnout occurs when a person becomes physically, cognitively and emotionally exhausted - a different, but related, condition to the clinical mood disorder known as depression.

Two researchers, Dr. Sharon Toker from the Recanati Faculty of Management at Tel Aviv University and Dr. Michal Biron from the University of Haifa in Israel, initially set out to investigate the relationship between depression and burnout.

They gave questionnaires to 1,632 healthy Israeli workers who went to a medical clinic for a check-up, and then Toker and Biron followed up with these participants three more times over the next nine years.

They aimed to study the personal, occupational and psychological states of the participants, but they found out much more when they inquired about participants' activity levels.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found a predictive association between depression and job burnout: an increase in one results in an increase in the other.

But then they classified the participants by the amount of physical activity they engaged in each week; they defined that activity as anything that increased the heart rate and made them break a sweat.

One group was comprised of those who did not exercise at all; one did 75 to 150 minutes weekly; another did 150 to 240 minutes weekly; and the fourth did 240 minutes or more weekly.

The sedentary group had the highest rates of both depression and burnout, and the researchers found a direct correlation between the amount of physical activity the participants engaged in and the likelihood that they would experience depression or burnout.

The more a person exercised, the less likely they were to be depressed or to burn out. The pattern began to emerge after a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise, but those with over four hours of weekly physical activity had virtually no depression or burnout at all.

Dr. Toker said employers who subsidize gym memberships, build a gym at their company and/or provide scheduling flexibility so employees can work out will likely find they have more productive employees who are better for the business.

She also suggests that any worker feeling stressed find a way to add physical activity to their schedules to help manage the stress.

Otherwise, people risk entering a "spiral of loss," where losing one resource, whether it's a job or a loved one, can cause a person to lose other resources, such as relationships, self-esteem, or possessions like their home.

Toker and Biron's research appears in the January 9 issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology. Their study was supported by grants from the Henry Crown Institute of Business Research in Israel, the Israel Science Foundation and the Israel National Institute for Health Policy and Health Services. No conflicts of interest were noted.

Last Updated:
February 27, 2012