Do you want to avoid burnout at work? Then start exercising!

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Just a regular afternoon like any other. You have been having a long and stressful day at work. You are trying to relax ant think about something else, but you can´t really take your mind of it. Your shoulders and neck are still aching from sitting fixed in front of the computer for many hours. Or maybe you have been running around in a store or on the factory floor and your legs are heavy and feeling like steel. You can´t wait to get home and relax or maybe go to the pub or maybe just go home and spend time with your family. But don´t. Put on your tracksuit and running shoes and go for a jog or go directly to the gym and sweat with the other people. This will make you feel better at work the new day. Strange, isn´t it. But maybe not.

Making the effort to go to the gym a few times each week can dramatically improve your mood scientists say. A team from Tel Aviv University found that employees who managed to exercise a few hours each week showed less signs of depression and burnout at work.

Burnout is defined as a physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. The researchers led by Dr. Sharon Toker say that burnout may contribute to a "spiral of loss" where the loss of one resource, such as a job, could lead to loss of other resources such as one´s home, marriage end sense of self-worth. Thus, burnout is a serious problem for those who are affected.

The research is published in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology. The article is called Job burnout and depression: Unraveling their temporal relationship and considering the role of physical activity. A total of 1.632 healthy Israeli workers, both in private and public sectors are followed for nine years. The participants were  divided into four groups: one that did not engage in physical activity, a second that did 75 - 150 minutes of physical activity a week, a third that did 150 - 240 minutes a week, and a fourth that did more than 240 minutes a week. All participants completed questionnaires and came to a medical clinic for routine check-ups.

Depression and burnout rates were clearly highest among those who did not participate in physical activity. The more physical activity that participants engaged in, the less likely they were to suffer depression or burnout. Those who engaged in at least four hours of exercise displayed almost no symptoms of mental strain. 

Dr. Toker added that employers would actually benefit by building a gym on company grounds or subsidising memberships to gyms in the community, and by allowing for flexible work hours to allow employees to make physical activity an integral part of their day. Such a strategy might pay business dividends in the long run. 

© Axel F Sigurdsson 2012