Continued high job stress leading to depleted energy, loss of motivation, and increased depression can have severe negative health effects. Known as ‘occupational burnout’ a study released March 4, 2013 on the BioMed Central website offers new evidence that aerobic exercise can significantly reduce the effects of burnout, providing an effective method to limiting the development of deeper physiological mechanisms that cause illness and premature death.
This pilot study is significant because it focused exclusively on the impact of aerobic exercise on those identified with high stress levels, compared to previous studies that utilized either a multidimensional program approach or focused on the impact of exercise on the general population. High stress levels leading to occupational or job burnout can have severe mental, physical, and behavioral ramifications such as: excessive stress, fatigue, insomnia, illness, substance abuse, depression, etc. according to the Mayo Clinic. Growing economic concerns resulting from job burnout such as decreased job performance, increased workforce turnover and absenteeism, led researchers from Switzerland's University of Basel Institute for Sport and Sport Sciences, and Department of Psychology to investigate whether aerobic exercise, independent of other stress management interventions, could lessen the impact of occupational stress. Researcher Markus Gerber and his team wanted to create a pilot –test for the potential use of aerobic exercise training as a simple and cost effective means of managing those who are currently experiencing burnout.
Researchers screened for participants with high job burnout levels through responses to Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) and Beck’s Depression Inventory (BDI). Those chosen for the study exhibited high scores for feelings of ‘emotional exhaustion’ and ‘depersonalization’ and low responses for feelings of ‘personal accomplishment’. Of the respondents, twelve men were chosen between 30 - 65 years, who were non-smokers, in good physical health yet not current regular exercisers and were instructed to exercise 2-3 times per week for 12 weeks. Following the guidelines established by the American College of Sports Medicine, participants were to exercise for one hour at 60-75% of their maximum heart in a supervised fitness facility on their choice of a cross trainer, treadmill, stepper, bike or rower.
At the conclusion of the 12 week study, a significant reduction in the participants’ level of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and depression were seen. Researchers also compared changes in mood after just one training session at both 5 and 9 week intervals and found improvements over baseline increased over time: after one aerobic workout feelings of anger were reduced twice as much at week 9 as compared to week 5. No improvements however were evident in feelings of ‘personal accomplishment’, which researchers felt was due to the fact that the exercise had no direct influence on a change in work conditions.
Due to the limits of their small study sample with no control group, the researchers maintain their goal was not to prove the hypothesis, but rather provide enough evidence to warrant future larger scale studies. They also recognize the likelihood that secondary effects had potentially more direct impact on some results opposed to just the exercise itself: improved sleep patterns due to exercise lead to decreased exhaustion and the interaction with the trainers during training sessions could have improved social and personal connections reducing feelings of depersonalization.
Whether primary or secondary, this study delivers encouraging evidence that aerobic exercise can have a multitude of positive effects mentally, physically, and emotionally and will hopefully encourage expanded research into best utilizing exercise as a means of stress management.
Aerobic exercise training and burnout: a pilot study with male participants suffering from burnout BMC Research Notes 2013, 6:78 doi:10.1186/1756-0500-6-78. Published: 4 March 2013 Markus Gerber, Serge Brand, Catherine Elliot, Edith Holsboer-Trachsler, Uwe Pühse and Johannes Beck Institute of Exercise and Health Sciences, University of Basel; Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel, Basel Switzerland