Burning Calories Avoids Burnout at Work

By Janice Wood
May 11th, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.

Burning Calories Avoids Burnout at WorkEmployees who work out are less likely to experience deterioration in their mental health, including symptoms of burnout and depression, according to a Tel Aviv University researcher.

Dr. Sharon Toker of TAU’s Recanati Faculty of Management, working with Dr. Michal Biron from the University of Haifa, discovered that the best benefits were achieved by people who exercised for four hours a week. She says they were half as likely to experience deterioration in their mental states as those who did no exercise.

Though depression and burnout are connected, they are not the same, according to Dr. Toker. Depression is a clinical mood disorder, while burnout is defined by physical, cognitive, and emotional exhaustion. Both contribute toward 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, she said.

Originally designed to examine the relationship between depression and burnout, the study, recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, 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 checkups and had three followup appointments over a period of nine years.

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 any physical activity, she said.

The more physical activity that participants engaged in, the less likely they were to experience depression and burnout 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, she said.

In those who engaged in 240 minutes of physical activity or more, the impact of burnout and depression was almost nonexistent, she said, adding that even 150 minutes a week will have a positive impact, helping people to deal with their workday, improve self-esteem, and stave off the spiral of loss.

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 physical activity an integral part of their day,   Toker said.

Source: Tel Aviv University

Woman working out in a gym photo by shutterstock.

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.